It’s been hammered home on this blog as well as pretty much any marijuana blog you’ll come across that further research is desperately needed into the health benefits offered by the obviously versatile plant. You can sift through a myriad of ailments and a wide number of them will show some rudimentary testing, whether authorized or not, that indicates that medicinal marijuana could be a viable treatment or at least alleviate symptoms. For some people, it will come as no surprise that you can add asthma to that list of afflictions. Others may be double taking at the gall of suggesting smoking anything as a means of combating a respiratory illness. However, there is enough evidence already collected to indicate that aspects of cannabis have the potential to curb asthma attacks if not treat the disease at its source.
From Wheezing to Weed
As a child, I suffered from asthma so severe that I was admitted to a children’s hospital for testing under suspicions I had cystic fibrosis. With years of shallow breathing and sporadic asthma attacks serving as cautionary reminders, I was easily deterred from the peer pressures of cigarette smoking and never even contemplated smoking weed. Flash forward to 1997 and I’m reading an article in some music magazine about trip hop artist Tricky taking hits off a glass pipe stuffed to the brim with the dankest weed the late ‘90s could muster while scouring a party for an albuterol inhaler for his asthma. I was taken aback by his frivolousness with his own health, especially as the magazine framed the scene as comically reckless. Flash forward again to 2006 and I’m thinking back to that anecdote about Tricky as my last albuterol inhaler has run out, I can no longer afford health insurance to obtain more, and my girlfriend’s passing me a joint for another hit. Obviously, I survived that smoke circle and many more after it leading me to believe that I’d somehow cured myself of asthma over the years. And who knows, maybe I have outgrown my asthma but it wasn’t until recently that I realized that, unlike nicotine cigarettes that instantly mess me up after one drag, marijuana may not exacerbate asthma as some would have you think.
Medicinal Marijuana vs. Traditional Asthma Treatments
My mother tried to stress to me from an early age to only use my inhaler when absolutely necessary in hopes of avoiding the side effects of the vaporized steroids. I was already diagnosed with high blood pressure by the time I was a teenager, possibly due to frequent use of inhalers. Many proponents of cannabis as a treatment for asthma argue that it bypasses the risks involved with steroid treatments and may even act more quickly.
But a quicker response may not be immediately apparent based on the collected studies. Dating all the way back to research conducted in 1973, results pointed to marijuana as differing from the oft-associated (though in very few ways similar) nicotine cigarette in that smoking cannabis actually dilated bronchial tubes
. A year later, when stacked against the common asthma medication isoproterenol, marijuana use resulted in a less potent bronchodilation
but the bronchial tubes remained dilated longer than they would if isoproterenol had been administered instead. When pitted against another common asthma medication, salbutamol, a 1976 experiment presented results indicating that though salbutamol provided a quicker path to full bronchial dilation, cannabis offered equal potency
However, some researchers believe that the inclusion of cannabinoid receptors in the lungs offer a means for cannabis to work more rapidly than steroid-based medications that currently make up the status quo for asthma treatment. Due to the often-cited hindrance of cannabis research restrictions by exaggerated and outdated federal drug classifications, the cannabinoid receptors in our lungs have not been properly examined or assessed but theories indicate that these receptors may play a role in muscle control, metabolism, and states of inflammation that can be driven through the measured administration of medicinal marijuana.
The Asthmatics Guide to Smoking vs. Vaping
The efficacy and risk of marijuana use in asthmatics may boil down to methods of administration. Tests done in the early ‘70s may have given research a starting point but modern medicinal marijuana is often either imbibed through edibles or vaped through a marijuana vaporizer. Vaporizers offer the anti-inflammatory and bronchial dilatory qualities of cannabis without the risks associated with combustion. Smoking may lead to ailments of the throat or swelling of tissue, though this is potentially refuted by research, conducted over the course of 20 years, which showed asthmatic weed smokers boasting stronger lungs
with none of the adverse effects one would expect of nicotine cigarette smokers. However, asthmatics looking for a better-safe-than-sorry approach may still err on the side of a vaporizer over a glass pipe or joint.
UPDATE: Why Using a Weed Vape Pen is Better for Asthmatics
We wanted to explain specifically why using an oil pen is often the better choice of cannabis consumption for asthmatics when pitted against smoking. If you’re specifically using medicinal marijuana for asthma, you’ll want to use an herbal vaporizer so that the cannabinoids are better preserved. Combustion will decimate many of the cannabinoids without reaping their full benefit but a decent cannabis vaporizer will let you retain more of the benefits associated to the cannabinoids. It’s also worth noting that cheap vape pens are going to involve some sort of combustion as well as all dry herb vape pen models. This is because the vape atomizer on dry herb pens has not advanced enough to heat your flower in such a tight space without a bit of combustion. To bypass combustion, you’ll need to skip the weed pen and invest in a desktop marijuana vaporizer. If you’re sticking to concentrates, you don’t really need to worry since concentrates are pretty much designed for vaping. Can a wax atomizer still burn oil? You bet. Avoiding burning your wax is less a matter of finding the best dab pen and more about staying aware of your heat settings.
Further Benefits of Cannabis as an Asthma Treatment
The dilation of bronchial tubes is just one way in which cannabis could potentially offer treatment for asthma sufferers. Some asthmatics claim to have used THC oil and medicinal marijuana edibles as preventative measures that stave off attacks. But again, research is sorely lacking in this department. Yet, the anti-inflammatory properties of marijuana are not just confirmed but well-documented. Building upon the above studies into marijuana’s propensity for bronchial dilation, research supports that cannabis also reduces inflammation and swelling of bronchial tissue.
While pain medication isn’t typically associated to asthma patients, 1999 research determined that 76% of the studied asthmatics suffered from chest pain
related to the ailment. Cannabis is well known for providing pain relief and it has been hypothesized that the administration of certain cannabinoids could significantly reduce pain associated to asthma through alleviating chest pressure and through marijuana’s tendency to interact with pain receptors.
It has also been posited that asthma stems from childhood bacterial infections involving the Gram-positive Streptococcus genus. Marijuana has been known to effectively combat Streptococcal bacteria, promoting its application as an antibiotic that could actually prevent the development of asthma.
While the public perception of asthma paints it as a non-life threatening disease, 10 Americans die from asthma on a daily basis
. Therefore, suggesting further research into cannabis as a treatment for asthma is by no means absurd. Nor is it unprecedented as ancient Chinese and Indian medicinal practices frequently used marijuana to treat asthma. With proper research, cannabis can be further honed into a potent medical solution for asthma sufferers that would allow them to skirt the unwanted side effects associated with steroid-based medicines. And that’s something that would have us all breathing easier.