Asthma Patients May Breathe Easier with Cannabis

People with asthma may now be able to breathe a little easier. Research
shows that medical marijuana can potentially provide relief from asthma
attacks.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disorder in which the airways are inflamed and
compressed. During an acute episode–called an asthma attack–the
airways become narrowed or blocked, making it difficult to breathe.
Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Tight feeling in the chest
  • Shortness of breathe

According to the World Health
Organization
, 235 million people
across the globe have asthma, and asthma causes about 250,000 deaths
each year. The National Heart, Lung and Blood
Institute

estimates that 25 million Americans have asthma.

Although the cause of asthma is unknown, it can be triggered by a number
of factors, including:

  • Allergens (pollen, dust mites and dander)
  • Irritants (tobacco smoke)
  • Medications (for example, aspirin)
  • Chemicals
  • Viral respiratory infections
  • Exercise

Treatment involves avoiding triggers, modifying exercise and taking
medication, such as inhaled bronchodilators, to open airways. In severe
cases, hospitalization may be required.

Cannabis and Asthma

The cannabinoid system in the human body helps regulate many functions,
including respiration.
Scientists have shown
that anandamide, which is a naturally occurring cannabinoid in the body,
helps maintain airway function. It can relieve coughing and
bronchospasms (tightening of the airways) caused by inhaled irritants.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the cannabinoids found in
marijuana. It has strong
anti-inflammatory
properties and is similar to anandamide. Recent
research
has found that THC causes bronchodilation, a widening and opening of the
bronchioles or tubes, in lung tissue in the laboratory.

Smoke and Asthma

One of the triggers for asthma is tobacco smoke, so it seems probable
that marijuana smoke could cause problems in patients with asthma.
Marijuana contains more than 400 compounds, including THC. Some of these
compounds are
naturally occurring toxins and some are toxins, such as ammonia, that
are introduced through fertilization of the growing marijuana plant.
Thus, a safer delivery method is needed. Two options are vaporization
and aerosolization.

Vaporization involves heating cannabis to a temperature that promotes
evaporation and prevents combustion. This method avoids toxin release
while delivering the same amount of
THC.
Research
into vaporization shows that it can improve lung function in long-term
recreational marijuana smokers.

An aerosolized medication is one where the active ingredient is
converted into tiny particles suspended in liquid. Asthma inhalers are
aerosolized versions of bronchodilator medication. A recent study found
that aerosolized THC
has improved breathing in patients with asthma and did so more rapidly
than albuterol, a traditional bronchodilator medication.

While evidence is preliminary and clinical studies are needed to further
define the effect of cannabis on asthma, the story is compelling.
Medical marijuana may have an important role in helping people cope with
asthma.

Photo Credit.

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