Asthma is a chronic condition of the lungs that’s caused by inflammation of your airways. As a result, your airways constrict. This leads to wheezing and breathing difficulties.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, more than 25 million Americans have asthma. Many of them are searching for natural and alternative treatment methods. This includes marijuana (cannabis).
Marijuana is being legalized in many states. Some states have legalized it for medical purposes only. Others have legalized both medical and recreational use of this drug.
You may be wondering whether marijuana could be a potential treatment for asthma, or perhaps you think it probably makes asthma worse. In fact, while smoking marijuana can worsen breathing problems, taking other forms of the plant that don’t require smoking may potentially benefit people with asthma.
A growing body of research is focusing on marijuana’s effects on asthma and whether cannabis plants can offer some relief for the condition. The focus isn’t so much on smoking marijuana joints, but rather on taking cannabinoids instead.
Cannabinoids are naturally occurring substances in marijuana plants. They are sometimes used to treat chronic pain and neurological conditions, such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis. This is due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
Since asthma is caused by a chronic inflammation of the lungs, researchers are trying to find out whether cannabinoids can have similar effects for this condition. Research is especially promising for people who have allergic asthma.
Cannabinoids may be available in the form of supplements. These substances may also be derived from smoking marijuana in nontraditional forms. A 2013 study in the journal Substance Abuse found that people who smoke marijuana using vaporizers gained more benefits from the plant with less lung-irritating smoke.
Still, there are some limits to these potential benefits. One study published in Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine contends that short-term medicinal uses of marijuana may not harm the lungs. This is compared to recreational or heavy smoking. However, it’s not clear just how much is safe or for exactly how long.
Despite any possible benefits, marijuana also poses enormous risks if you have asthma. This is particularly the case if you smoke it. Smoking any substance can increase inflammation in your lungs. This makes asthma symptoms worse.
When you smoke marijuana, large air sacs called bullae may start to develop in your lungs. These can eventually disrupt your breathing. According to the American Thoracic Society, you’re at an increased risk of developing bullae from smoking marijuana if you’re under the age of 45.
Over time, bullae can grow and cause shortness of breath. What’s even more dangerous is the development of pneumothorax. This is a life-threatening condition that occurs when bullae rupture in the lungs.
In the short term, smoking marijuana can cause:
- frequent coughing
- lung infections
- shortness of breath
Smoking is perhaps one of the most common ways to use marijuana. Still, this isn’t the only form of marijuana available.
Aside from traditional joints, some people prefer smoking marijuana with other tools such as bong. In theory, these can help reduce the amount of smoke you inhale. However, not enough studies have been done to determine whether such devices make smoking marijuana any safer.
Vaping marijuana by warming the plant results in less smoke being inhaled. CBD and THC, two compounds of marijuana, can be taken orally in food or capsules. Oils with CBD can be applied to the skin. The entire marijuana plant is often available in food products.
Nonsmoking forms of marijuana are also less likely to irritate your lungs. These include extracts that may be mixed with food and CBD oils that are available as supplements.
Numerous conventional treatment options are available for people with asthma. Aside from quick-relief medications, such as inhalers, your doctor may recommend drugs that provide more long-term control. These help stop asthma symptoms before they become problematic by decreasing inflammation. Examples include:
- inhaled corticosteroids
- leukotriene tablets
If you’re looking for more “natural” forms of asthma treatment, talk to your doctor about the following options:
- breathing exercises
When it comes to using marijuana for asthma, there’s an ongoing debate about the benefits versus the risks. The negative effects of tobacco smoke — especially for people with lung diseases such as asthma — have been well-established. As marijuana becomes legalized in many areas, only then can more research be done.
However, the bottom line is that smoking marijuana can indeed be harmful if you have asthma. Overall, smoking marijuana is unsafe for people with lung disease.
Talk to your doctor about all the options for asthma treatment, and ask whether other forms of marijuana could benefit your particular case.