Marijuana & Asthma: Can it Help?

byPerry Solomon, MD3 minutes

For most people, the idea of inhaling marijuana to treat the symptoms of asthma is simply unheard of. It's common knowledge that smoking cigarettes can worsen asthma symptoms, and most people can't imagine how inhaling anything (besides the medicine contained in a doctor-prescribed inhaler, of course) could have health benefits.

Cannabis, however, can have positive effects on the symptoms of asthma even when inhaled. These new findings are an exciting development for those suffering from the lung disease. It's possible that with further study, we'll soon be seeing marijuana emerge as a mainstream treatment for this chronic condition.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a dangerous respiratory condition that results in difficulty breathing. Asthma attacks—characterized by coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath—are often the result of exercise or allergic reactions to environmental pollutants, like pollen or dander. With symptoms that range from mild to severe, asthma is a common disorder that affects 3.8 million Canadians. Every day in Canada, there are 443 new asthma diagnoses.

How Cannabis Treats Asthma Symptoms

It's widely known that cannabis is a powerful anti-inflammatory. One of the main ways cannabis treats asthma symptoms is by discouraging inflammation and opening the passages of the respiratory system. This, in turn, decreases coughing and shortness of breath. While many people may imagine the effects of smoking marijuana and smoking cigarettes to be similar, the effects of marijuana on the bronchial passages are actually the opposite of tobacco cigarettes, which constrict the passages of the airway, causing asthma symptoms to worsen.

A 2012 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who suffered from asthma and smoked marijuana on a moderate basis actually increased their lung function, without suffering the lung damage associated with tobacco cigarettes.

These results have surprised almost everyone, from consumers to doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of asthma. It's clear the effectiveness of medical marijuana on asthma symptoms has the potential to revolutionize how the condition is treated in the future.

Cannabis Vaporizers vs. Corticosteroids

One thing many medical professionals are considering is whether cannabis can replace or decrease the use of corticosteroids for the treatment of asthma. Inhalers containing corticosteroids are currently the most-diagnosed treatment for asthma, but unfortunately, the medications contained within prescribed inhalers have been associated with dangerous side effects, including depression, anxiety and high blood pressure. Because of this, many asthma sufferers have been looking for steroid-free treatment solutions - and marijuana is currently one of the leading options.

One of the best ways to deliver cannabis to a person suffering from asthma is through vaporization. Modern inhalers work by vaporizing the medicine within, so it stands to reason marijuana vaporizers could become just as popular in the asthmatic community. In addition to being safer and cleaner than smoking, vaporizers are also highly portable, efficient and effective. Because of these characteristics, cannabis vaporizers could easily replace vaporized corticosteroids with a safer and more effective medicine.

Vaping Marijuana Seems Best to Treat Asthma

While only time will tell whether marijuana gains popularity as a treatment for asthma, it's clear the compounds contained within marijuana (including tetrahydrocannabinol—THC—and cannabidiol—CBD) possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can help decrease and alleviate the symptoms of asthma. Additionally, the easy availability and proven effectiveness of delivery methods like marijuana vaporization can help asthma sufferers have access to a safe, efficient treatment to manage their symptoms.

Photo Credit: LastHuckleBerry