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Asthma

Juan was born with asthma. As a child, he was dependant on inhalers and could barely run two blocks before his lungs would close up. The first time he smoked cannabis, his lungs opened. Not only could he take deeper and longer breathes, but he could run much further than ever before. Miraculously logging miles on foot has now become a passion. Today, he centers his mission around helping others find not just cannabis but all plant medicines that may help them long term.  Cannabis and asthma hold a great deal of promise. 

Can Cannabis Help Breathing Problems Caused by Asthma? 

Asthma affects more than 25 million Americans, seven million of whom are children. Hippocrates coined the term around 400 BC to describe the disease that causes breathing airways to narrow. Dust mites, molds, pollens, pets, cockroaches, household chemicals, foods, and exercise can trigger asthma attacks of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. 

Standard Asthma Treatments

Doctors treat asthma using two types of medication–anti-inflammatory drugs and bronchodilators. Anti-inflammatories, particularly steroids, reduce mucus production and swelling in the airways. Their primary role is to prevent attacks before they start by cutting down on the chronic inflammation causing the airways to narrow. On the other hand, bronchodilators are typically given to relieve uncontrollable coughing and shortness of breath during attacks by relaxing the muscle bands that tighten around the airways. As the airways open, mucus moves more freely and can be coughed out. Doctors consider asthma uncontrolled if someone suffers attacks more than twice a week, so they recommend against patients using bronchodilators daily. 

Cannabis for Asthma

In India, cannabis has been used as an expectorant medicine for symptoms of what we today call asthma since around 1000 B.C–as well as in Africa since the 15th century. Now, this ancient remedy is earning merit in modern experiments. A surprising 1976 study compared two sets of asthmatics. One used a THC spray and the other used Albuterol, a common bronchodilation drug. Maximal bronchodilatation was achieved more rapidly with Albuterol, but at 1 hour both drugs were equally effective. THC significantly improved lung function, and no cardiovascular or mood disturbances were detected. The doctors performing the experiment pointed out that because the mode of action of THC differs from that of classic asthma drugs, it could work well as a medication for certain asthmatics that didn’t respond well to conventional treatments. The effects of CBD oil on the body also seem beneficial, perhaps more so than prescription medication in many situations. 

Side Effects of CBD Oil and Cannabis

These findings were surprising since smoking is thought to diminish lung function, but while tobacco is consistently linked to respiratory illness, that doesn’t seem to be the case with cannabis. In fact, there aren’t any studies that prove cannabis smoking harms the lungs, while studies supporting its safety are in the double digits. A 2010 investigation published in the European Respiratory Journal found that marijuana actually improved lung function. Scientists postulate that the cannabinoid antioxidants in cannabis offset damage potentially done by inhaled smoke. Subsequent studies have confirmed that cannabis indeed acts as a bronchodilator that produces a significant increase in specific airway conductance and forced expiratory volume, two essential markers of lung function. 

Using Oral Cannabis

For those who want or need to avoid smoking, Dr. Donald Tashkin et al. studied 14 asthmatic volunteers and compared smoked cannabis (THC 2%), oral THC (15mg) and a standard bronchodilator (isoprenaline 0.5%). They found that smoked marijuana and oral THC produced significant bronchodilation for at least 2 hours and they concluded that both benefited breathing in asthmatics.

 

A recurring theme that appears when examining cannabis as medicine is its low levels of side effects and even lower danger of drug interaction. Studies on asthma have been exceptionally well tolerated by subjects. With well over half of the population taking at least one prescription, harmful drug interactions are a severe threat. While cannabis does have side effects like occasional dry mouth, anxiety, and paranoia, these are only temporary and far from life-threatening; not to mention rarely appearing at the doses used in the published studies on asthma. Contrast this with the side effects of oral steroids (Prednisone) used for asthma: weight gain, fluid retention, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, growth suppression, diabetes, cataracts of the eyes, bone-thinning osteoporosis and muscle weakness. 

With all of the technology around us today– self-driving cars, virtual assistants, and phones more powerful than spaceships of the past– it’s mind-boggling that we continue to find some of our most healing medicines in nature. While there is no cure for asthma, cannabis is a proven bronchodilator that may be a better alternative to inhalers and steroids for some asthmatics. So many people have bad experiences with pharmaceuticals, whether it be from the side-effects, ineffectiveness, a misdiagnosis, or an overdose. The public’s frustration and desire for a more natural avenue to health have brought about a renaissance in plant medicine with cannabis leading the way. This is a valuable movement providing people, who have so much themselves to give, the healing that has alluded them in the traditional medical system. It’s no wonder people like Juan become such passionate advocates. Cannabis and asthma appear to work together creating great benefits. 

 

Bibliography

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Hart, Carl L., Amie S. Ward, Margaret Haney, Sandra D. Comer, Richard W. Foltin, and Marian W. Fischman. “Comparison of Smoked Marijuana and Oral Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol in Humans.” Psychopharmacology. December 2002. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12457271.

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“Prednisone for Asthma Treatment: Benefits and Side Effects.” WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/prednisone-asthma#2-8.

Preidt, Robert. “Americans Taking More Prescription Drugs Than Ever.” WebMD. August 03, 2017. https://www.webmd.com/drug-medication/news/20170803/americans-taking-more-prescription-drugs-than-ever-survey.

Taylor, D. Robin, David M. Fergusson, Barry J. Milne, L. John Horwood, Terrie E. Moffitt, Malcolm R. Sears, and Richie Poulton. “A Longitudinal Study of the Effects of Tobacco and Cannabis Exposure on Lung Function in Young Adults.” Addiction. July 28, 2002. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1360-0443.2002.00169.x.

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Williams, J., Hartley, and J. D. Graham. “Bronchodilator Effect of Delta1-tetrahydrocannabinol Administered by Aerosol of Asthmatic Patients.” Thorax. December 01, 1976. https://thorax.bmj.com/content/31/6/720.abstract.

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