Cannabis And Asthma

Atopic diseases, or those that cause an individual to experience immediate allergic reactions (asthma being one of the more common), affect about 20 percent of the population in developed countries. Researchers looking for a way to combat the longtime public health concern conducted a series of tests involving the use of cannabidiol (CBD). Although the research used rats as subjects the results are nonetheless encouraging. Early research suggests that CBD is an effective treatment for minimizing the inflammation experienced by asthma sufferers.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is one of the most ubiquitous chronic inflammatory diseases in the U.S., affecting an estimated 35 million people, and claiming the lives of 4,000 each year. The disease is typically caused by inflammation of the bronchial tubes, causing the chest to feel tight and breathing to become difficult.

Symptoms include wheezing, coughing (especially at night), shortness of breath, and pain or pressure in the chest. While not every case of asthma is identical, the treatments for all cases are similar.

Current Methods of Treating Asthma Patients

Anti-inflammatory drugs are the most popular treatment among people suffering from asthma. The steroids are inhaled through devices called inhalers, which are short-acting broncho-dilators. Broncho-dilators work to open your airway passages relieving shortness of breath, wheezing, cough and chest tightness caused by asthma.

Some patients with more serious cases of asthma treat themselves with nebulizer breathing-treatments. A nebulizer is an in-home (tabletop) machine that changes the medication from a liquid to a mist so that it can be more easily absorbed by the lungs when inhaled (similar to a vaporizer). These treatments may cause restlessness, headaches, nausea, and even more serious side effects such as seizures.

The Study

With the approval of the Ethics Committee at Brazil’s Universidade do Extremo Sul Catarinense, and in conjunction with the NIH Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, researchers conducted a study using 8-week-old rats sourced from a breeding colony. The rats were housed five to a cage and exposed to a 12-hour light cycle. They were given food and water to enjoy at their leisure.

The rats were injected with chicken ovalbumin (OVA) alone or in combination with aluminum hydroxide. OVA is atypical to the environment and known to provoke Tp and Th2 responses. A second boost of either OVA or aluminum hydroxide was administered 14 days later. After a week, the rats were given aerosol challenges using saline or a similar solution. During the last two days of the study, 21 of the rats were separated into 3 groups–a control group, an asthma group (injected with OVA), and an asthma/treatment group (injected with OVA and CBD).

Those in the asthma/treatment group were given an injection once a day of a solution of CBD and TWEENⓇ80 (which was prepared immediately before administration and kept out of light beforehand). Blood samples were then obtained from the rats 24 hours later so that researchers could assess their levels of cytokines. Cytokines are small proteins released by cells that have specific effects on the interaction and communication between cells and on the behavior of cells.

The Results

The study revealed that the rats treated with CBD experienced a reduction in two types of cytokines; known as Tp and Th2. In addition to showing that CBD treatment was effective in reducing cytokine levels, the study suggests that CBD may influence a reduction in the major stimuli of mucus hyper-secretion, another prominent symptom experienced by those with asthma.

The findings of the study were consistent with that of the Ribero study, which shows CBD to have potent immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory properties. It is noted, however, that the asthma-associated inflammation of the rat models differed somewhat from that of the LPS-induced inflammation of the mice models being studied for decreasing inflammation due to lung injuries.

Cannabinoids Proven to Enhance Lung Function

While marijuana smoke has some of the same toxins as tobacco smoke, the cannabinoids found in cannabis work in a way to counter act the harmful effects of the smoke. So are your lungs actually ever really damaged? This is yet to be proven.

Studies have demonstrated that THC may act as a temporary (1-2 hours) bronchodilator, especially when ingested. The New England Journal of Medicine, published a 1973 study that stated, “Marihuana smoke, unlike cigarette smoke, causes broncho-dilation rather than broncho-constriction [narrowing of the air passages] and, unlike opiates, does not cause central respiratory depression [i.e. a decrease in breathing].”

 “Marijuana smoke, unlike cigarette smoke, causes broncho-dilation [opening] rather than broncho-constriction [narrowing of the air passages] and, unlike opiates, does not cause central respiratory depression.” – New England Journal of Medicine

While some may argue that lung capacity is increased because of long inhales and the holding of breath that goes with cannabis smoking, that doesn’t explain why the lungs of cannabis-only smokers didn’t worsen like the lungs of cigarette smokers. There is more happening behind the scenes.

Oral administration (and perhaps vaporization) of cannabinoids may open up your airways, acting as a bronchodilator. Some asthmatics have found relief through the use of Marinol, a synthetic (man-made) pill-form of THC. Although the drug has greater psychoactive properties than actual cannabis and may be less effective than whole-plant cannabis for certain conditions, it is still more effective than inhalers or nebulizers for most patients. Asthma patients may benefit from the ingestion of cannabis because of its anti-inflammatory effects, through the use of edibles or tincture. For patients that have serious cases of asthma, ingesting hemp oil in its raw form could provide long-term preventative relief as an alternative to smoking.

Cannabis May Help Cleanse Sinuses & Lungs

Doctors often suggest that patients use a neti pot to clear clogged sinuses (a frequent problem among asthma patients) in the morning. Some people dislike this method because it just feels weird, and is not exactly what someone looks forward to doing each and every morning.

Needless to say, much more scientific research must be done to assess the effect of various cannabis delivery methods on asthma patients. With over 35 million people affected each year by asthma, finding safe and effective treatment options to commonly used medications that may produce adverse side effects is essential.