Can CBD Help with Breathing Issues like Asthma and COPD?

CBD for Lungs

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may need long-term and gradual treatment based on their specific condition. In the early stages of COPD, many individuals use oxygen therapy to slow down the disease's progress. In more severe cases, surgical procedures, such as lung transplants, may be required.

Some studies have reported that using cannabidiol (CBD) has reduced the symptoms of COPD and improved breathing. CBD has been examined for its ability to reduce inflammation and act as a bronchodilator (widening the airways for better breathing). Both these effects suggest that CBD may help alleviate some of the symptoms of COPD. However, more research is still needed to confirm the impact of CBD on shortness of breath.

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a complex respiratory condition that significantly impairs lung function and breathing. It's a progressive disease that targets the lungs and airways, making it increasingly difficult for individuals to breathe as it advances. Currently, there is no cure for COPD.

The primary cause of COPD is long-term exposure to harmful lung irritants, with cigarette smoking being the most common risk factor for developing the condition. However, other environmental factors, such as exposure to air pollution, secondhand smoke, chemical fumes, and dust, can also contribute to the development of COPD. Genetic factors can also influence an individual's susceptibility to the disease.

COPD symptoms appear gradually and are often overlooked initially. These common symptoms include a persistent cough, increased mucus production, shortness of breath (especially during physical activities), wheezing, and chest tightness. As COPD progresses through its stages, these symptoms become more noticeable and severe. As these symptoms worsen, an individual's daily life can become significantly impacted, making even routine activities, like walking or self-care, challenging.

How does CBD oil work?

CBD interacts with the body's endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system affects signaling in the central nervous system. This impacts many parts of your body's functions, including:

  • Mood
  • Appetite
  • Energy
  • Memory
  • Sleep
  • Digestion
  • Heart function

To produce CBD oil, CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant and added to a base oil. The base oil helps your body absorb the CBD.

It is believed that CBD oil enters the bloodstream faster when taken under the tongue and absorbed through the capillaries there, compared to swallowing a capsule. However, more research is still needed in this area.

Does CBD Work for COPD?

Doctors aren't sure if CBD can relieve symptoms of COPD or any other form of lung disease. "There's no research that says CBD is effective for COPD," says April Hatch, a nurse at Cannabis Care Team in Kansas City, MO. She works with patients interested in cannabis-based therapies.

The belief that CBD might ease COPD symptoms may have originated from research done decades ago, which showed that smoking marijuana actually relaxed the airways and improved breathing in healthy people and people with asthma. But this benefit was short-lived, and regular marijuana smoking is known to promote breathing problems, like coughing and wheezing.

Some lab studies have provided early signs that CBD could alter certain biological changes that cause COPD. With COPD, your lungs become highly inflamed. The inflammation doesn't go away and leads to irreversible blockages in your airways. CBD does seem to fight inflammation, at least in studies on animals. And a 2020 study in the Journal of Cannabis Research found that cannabis oil (which contained CBD and THC) appeared to act as an anti-inflammatory when exposed to human lung cells in a laboratory.

"The problem with these kinds of studies is that they only offer hints that CBD might help relieve breathing problems," says pulmonologist Andrew Martin, MD, chair of pulmonary medicine at Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills, NJ. Unfortunately, he says, some experimental medicines that look promising in the lab end up having no effect when given to real people.

And that's just what seems to have happened when scientists have tested whether CBD improves breathing in people with and without COPD. In a 1984 study, large doses of CBD given to healthy men failed to relax and widen their airways. In a very small 2011 study that included just four people with COPD, treatment with a drug called Sativex, which has THC and CBD, didn't improve scores on a test that measures breathing. Interestingly, though, after treatment with the medication, they reported feeling less out of breath.

In another small study from 2018, researchers had people with advanced COPD inhale vaporised cannabis to see if it gave them more lung power when pedalling exercise cycles. It didn't help, though in fairness the strain of pot used in the study contained only a very small amount of CBD. Once again, the people who inhaled cannabis said they felt less anxious, though that came at a cost, since they also felt high.

Are there any risks or precautions to consider before using CBD for COPD?

It's important to select CBD products with a certificate of analysis (COA). This may look like a QR code on the label or packaging.

The COA will tell you what the product contains according to an independent lab test, including its true CBD content. It will also note if there are any harmful ingredients in the product.

CBD and grapefruit can have similar effects on certain medications, so CBD can interact with medications that carry a grapefruit warning. Some people also notice side effects such as feeling sleepy or experiencing digestive upset.

Can CBD Help Ease Symptoms of Asthma?

CBD is gaining increasing attention because of its ability to reduce inflammation and act as an antioxidant. Some research also indicates that it may provide more protective benefits for the nervous system than vitamins C and E.

CBD oil may decrease hyperresponsiveness in your airways, meaning that your lungs may become less sensitive to your asthma triggers. In turn, this means fewer flare-ups and symptoms such as coughing.

A 2019 study found that CBD decreased airway inflammation and hyperresponsiveness in mice that were induced with allergic asthma. However, more research is needed in humans to determine whether CBD oil is an effective treatment for allergy-induced asthma.

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