Affecting more than 235 million people worldwide, according to WHO estimates, asthma has earned a spot as one of the chronic ailments that could use a “miracle cure.” With CBD readily obtainable, some asthmatics are now turning to it to get a handle on their symptoms. Many more, however, wonder whether CBD and asthma are a good fit or foes.
CBD, the non-psychoactive derivative of hemp or marijuana plant, is no doubt the latest gold-rush in the wellness space, and with good reason. Existing evidence, most of which is anecdotal, suggests that cannabidiol is not only safe but it could also have multiple medicinal benefits.
As noted by Kyro in its science-backed guide to CBD, this hemp-derived cannabidiol is not just federally legal; it may have an impact on a raft of conditions and symptoms, ranging from anxiety and chronic pain to arthritis and even some symptoms of autism.
Asthma is a chronic respiratory illness characterized by inflammation and mucus in the lung airways, which leads to breathing problems. A growing number of asthma sufferers are increasingly curious about the positive therapeutic potentials that CBD can offer them. Can it harm or help treat asthma symptoms?
Keep reading to find out.
What is asthma and how is it usually treated?
Asthma is a rather common and often chronic disorder of the lungs in which the respiratory airways are inflamed or swollen. As a result, the lung airways become narrowed, constricted, choked and stuffed with mucus, making it difficult for the person to breathe.
Allergic asthma, in which the immune system overreacts to the presence of allergens causing tightening of the airways, is the most common type of asthma. The more common allergens include pollen, pet dander, cockroach feces, dust mite excrements, mold spores, cold, and germ-ridden dirt.
People with asthma account for roughly 8 percent of the US general population and about 10 Americans succumb to the condition every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Common Symptoms of Asthma
Whether it’s chronic asthma or allergy-induced asthma, people with the condition experience a nearly similar range of symptoms that include:
- Wheezing (a whistling noise coming out your lungs when breathing)
- Shortness of breath (or breathlessness)
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep because of coughing, wheezing, and breathlessness
- Chest pain and/or tightness
These symptoms usually vary from one person to another, and they often appear at certain times, such as when during cold weather, when exercising or when exposed to allergens.
For some patients, asthma is a rarely serious vexation. For others, however, it can be a major health issue and may lead to severe asthma attacks which can be life-threatening.
Asthma attacks are episodes or flare-ups that occur when symptoms suddenly and rapidly worsen. These pressing flare-ups are responsible for around 2 million hospital visits yearly and can have substantial impacts on the patient’s quality of life. Without proper treatment being made available as soon as possible, people can also die from an asthma attack.
To diagnose asthma, your physicians will most probably check for symptoms as well as order a few easy tests. You’ll rarely have to see a respiratory specialist unless your doctor has a reason to believe that you have another underlying condition.
– Initial Physical Examination
Asthma shares a handful of symptoms with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), allergies, and certain respiratory infections. As a result, your physician will kick off the diagnosis with a physical exam to rule them out.
During the physical exam, you may also be asked to answer a few questions, such as:
- What symptoms you have been experiencing
- When and how frequently they occur
- What else might be triggering these symptoms (if you can pinpoint them?)
- Whether any close relatives have asthma
- Whether you’ve had allergies, eczema, COPD or know a close relative with these conditions
– Lung Function Tests
Also known as pulmonary tests, lung function tests help measure your breathing capacity. The common pulmonary tests your doctor may order include:
- Peak flow: This test measures how forcefully you can expel air from your lungs. If it returns lower-than-normal readings, it’s often a sign that your lungs aren’t functioning normally and that you may have asthma. Several peak flow tests will be done to see if your asthma is worsening over time.
- Spirometry: You’ll just blow into a gadget that will measure how much air you can both inhale and the force and speed with which you can exhale. This is an overall assessment of lung function.
Pulmonary tests are usually conducted before and after you’ve taken a bronchodilator like albuterol to ease the airways. If your pulmonary function improves after taking the medication, then you’re likely to be asthmatic.
– Other Asthma Tests
Your physicians may order a series of other tests to diagnose your condition conclusively. These may include:
- FeNO Test: Inflamed lung airways – which are often a surefire sign of asthma – register higher-than-usually readings of nitric oxide. FeNO test will help measure the nitric oxide levels of your breath.
- Allergy Tests: These are designed to establish if an allergy is triggering your asthma symptoms. Allergy blood or skin tests can help determine if you are allergic to pet dander, pollen, mold or dust.
- Imaging Tests: You may be ordered to take a chest X-ray scan or CT scans of your sinuses and lungs to zero in on any infections, structural abnormalities, and other issues that may be causing your breathing problems.
- Sputum Eosinophils: This test checks for the presence of eosinophils, specific white blood cells that signify asthma symptoms, in your cough matter (mucus and saliva).
- Methacholine Challenge: Even if you return normal lung function tests, the methacholine challenge may help find signs of hidden or asymptomatic asthma.
- Provocative Testing: With provocative tests, your physician will check for airway constriction/obstruction before and after you have been exposed to cold or physical activity.
At the moment, there’s no cure for asthma, so treatment options usually revolve around keeping symptoms under control and keeping complications at bay. For the patient, this involves trying to understand the underlying triggers, taking measures to avoid them, and monitoring your lung function (breathing).
When you prevent or keep your symptoms in check, you are more likely to nip asthma attacks in the bud, so you can live a healthy, productive life. If you experience asthma attacks, however, there are certain fast-relief medications and inhalers you can use, like albuterol.
More importantly, your physician will tailor your treatment plan based on your triggers, age, and type of asthma you have.
– First-Relief Medications
These are rescue medications that are used in case you suffer from an asthma attack. They offer fast relief to quickly restore lung function and help you breathe normally again. The most common first-aid treatments for asthma include:
- Rescue inhalers: These are fast-acting bronchodilators that relax constricted lung muscles to unblock the airways. Albuterol and levalbuterol are two of the most common bronchodilators used for fast rescue. They act in minutes and may be conveyed into the lungs through a variety of dose-specific inhalers.
- Nebulizer: This is a machine loaded with bronchodilators and humid air conveyed usually through a mask covering nose and mouth. The bronchodilator is aerosolized, and asthma sufferers inhale the medicine deep into their respiratory system to quickly open airways and restore normal breathing.
- Anti-inflammatories: Rapid inflammation is one of the biggest culprits of asthma flare-ups. Anti-inflammatories do what the name suggests – they target inflammation to restore lung function and eventually decongest the airways.
- Corticosteroids: These quick-relief medications can be taken intravenously or orally, and often target inflammation in the airways. Great examples include prednisone and methylprednisolone.
Because some quick-relief medications, such as the corticosteroids, have unwanted side-effects, they should be used on a short-term, need-only basis.
– Long-Term Medications
You may need to take some medications on their own or in combination with an inhaler to effectively control your symptoms. These long-term use meds include:
- Leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs): Also called leukotriene modifiers, LTRAs are oral medications available in tablets, powder or syrup form. They help curb asthma symptoms for up to a day (24 hours). Zileuton (Zyflo), montelukast (Singulair), and zafirlukast (Accolate) are good examples. Consult with your doctor if you have severe headaches, stomach aches, and in rare cases, psychological side effects.
- Long-acting beta-agonists: Best taken with inhaled corticosteroids, these are medications that help decongest the airways, helping you breathe better. These inhaled drugs include formoterol and salmeterol.
- Theophylline: These are bronchodilators taken as pills daily to help relax lung muscles and open the airways. They are a great alternative if your condition isn’t responding to other long-term treatments.
- Inhaled corticosteroids: These are also called preventive inhalers, and they include fluticasone furoate, mometasone, beclomethasone, ciclesonide, flunisolide, budesonide, and fluticasone. They are anti-inflammatory inhaled medications, meaning they are safe for long-term use.
- Combined inhalers: If using preventive inhalers and rescue inhalers individually doesn’t do the trick, you can take both in the form of combined inhalers. In other words, they consist of both inhaled corticosteroids (for inflammation) and long-acting beta-agonist (to relax muscles).
– Allergy Medications
If your asthma is worsened or triggered by allergies, then allergy medications will help you stop the symptoms and prevent impending asthma attacks. The main allergy treatments for asthma are:
- Immunotherapy: This involves getting allergy shots for a period of 3-5 years so as to reduce your immune response to specific allergens over time.
- Omalizumab: This is an injection given every 2-4 weeks, and geared towards patients who have severe asthma and allergies.
For some patients with severe asthma, injections are usually given every few weeks to help keep symptoms in control. The most common injections for severe asthma cases include:
A word of caution: These injections are not meant for all asthma patients and can only be prescribed by a specialist.
– Bronchial Thermoplasty (Surgery)
If nothing else seems to work, including inhaled corticosteroids, oral corticosteroids, combined inhalers, and long-term medications, bronchial thermoplasty may be suggested by your doctor as a last-resort treatment option. Although rare, this special procedure is effective and fairly safe.
With bronchial thermoplasty, a tiny tube with an electrode is pushed down your throat into your bronchial tubes. The device heats up and the heat reduces the amount of airway smooth muscle. This, in turn, limits the ability of the airway smooth muscle to narrow and contract. As a result, this procedure reduces the chances of asthma attacks.
– Home Remedies
Home remedies are often used in tandem with traditional asthma medications, helping prevent flare-ups and stop symptoms from intensifying. Their use, however, should be flexible and sparingly, depending on the severity of the symptoms.
Some of the most popular asthma home remedies include:
Essential Oils: Inhaled eucalyptus oil vapor (which contains eucalyptol) acts as a natural bronchodilator or decongestant for the lung airways. And so do camphor, chamomile, basil, and lavender essential oils.
Of importance to note is that some of these essential oils give off strong or pungent chemicals and smells that could do more harm than good for your asthma. That is why inhaling them isn’t a treatment option for everyone with asthma.
Caffeinated Drinks: Caffeine is a well-known stimulant, and some of its chemical components deliver similar therapeutic effects as asthma medicine theophylline. When you drink caffeinated tea or coffee, these chemicals may work by decongesting the lung airways, helping calm asthma symptoms for a brief time.
Mustard Oil: Not to be confused with mustard essential oil, this soothing ointment can be rubbed directly on the skin to help open the airways and reduce the chances of having asthma attacks.
Other complementary treatment options for asthma symptoms include breathing exercises (including the Alexander technique), acupuncture, ionizers, homeopathy, chiropractic, and so forth. However, many of these are not proven to relieve asthma or even its symptoms. At no time should you embrace a new asthma regimen without talking to your physician first!
Why Some People with Asthma Are Exploring CBD
There seems to be a subset of asthma patients who are turning to CBD, and it’s easy to understand why.
Staying on top of some asthma complications like breathing difficulties, sleep disturbances, and wheezing is no walk in the park. While there are certain prescriptions (as covered above) that you can take to stave off asthma attacks and alleviate symptoms, many of them have some side-effects that can be off-putting.
Take corticosteroids, for instance. Long-term use of these steroid-based asthma drugs can provoke adverse effects like easy bruising, mood changes, weight gain as a result of elevated appetite, eye problems, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis.
Everyday use of preventive inhalers, on the other hand, can leave you with a hoarse voice, sore throat, and oral fungal infections. In addition, leukotriene modifiers such as zileuton may at times contribute to depression or cause suicidal thoughts and even hallucinations.
Enter CBD and asthma: could it be the proverbial miracle in a bottle for the condition?
There’s a burgeoning body of research focusing on CBD’s potential as an alternative treatment option for asthma symptoms. Indeed, some studies have suggested that CBD may benefit asthma sufferers.
The interest of the medical community isn’t so much in whether CBD can cure asthma, but rather whether it can offer relief for its symptoms.
While cannabis itself has been on the radar of the respiratory care experts, it’s CBD that has become an attention hog and for good reasons:
- CBD is non-psychoactive, so it won’t get an asthma patient high
- Cannabis is a well-documented bronchodilator
- CBD has been found by highly regarded bodies like WHO to be well-tolerated, safe, and fairly effective for other issues
- It’s legal and readily available
- Has no notable side effects, unlike most asthma drugs
- CBD and asthma go-to’s like inhalers may be used as a combo treatment
With all these perceived benefits, it’s little wonder 89 percent of seniors recommend CBD to their friends. So, how might CBD help with asthma?
– CBD May Help Reduce Bronchospasms
Bronchospasms — which are rapid, involuntary contractions or squeezing of lung muscles — has always been the hallmark symptom of asthma attacks. If not controlled, they can cause lung airways to become severely narrow or congested, leading to breathing difficulties and wheezing.
Some recent studies have shown that CBD may help alleviate, prevent or reduce muscle spasticity. By calming muscle spasms, it helps open the airways, easing asthma symptoms.
For example, in a 2015 study investigating the effects of Sativex (an oral concoction of CBD and THC in 50-50 ratio) on multiple sclerosis patients, researchers saw significant improvements in both muscle spasticity and mobility.
The same was confirmed by another 2014 study in which 3/4 of patients who received Sativex treatment noticed a reduction in muscle spasm.
Although more extensive studies and large-scale clinical runs are clearly needed specifically on asthmatic patients, it’s safe to say that may CBD possess some muscle spasm relief potential for MS patients. It’s possible that CBD may also help relax bronchial muscles and ease breathing as a result, but studies have not yet been done that show this.
– CBD Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Inflammation plays a massive role in asthma flare-ups. When an asthmatic individual is exposed to allergens, irritants, and other triggers, the immune system sets off an inflammatory reaction.
When the airways become inflamed, they result in muscle spasms and lots of mucus is secreted. The outcome isn’t pretty: the airways are clogged, become narrowed and filled with mucus, making breathing in and out extremely difficult.
This is where CBD may come into play because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
Some scientists think that CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties are due to its action on endocannabinoid receptor CB2, which in turn helps reduce the levels of pro-inflammatory mediators, namely mast cells and C fibers.
In one study published in 2019 in the European Journal of Pharmacology, investigators found that CBD use may be linked to reduced inflammatory reactions and restoration of lung function in patients with allergic asthma.
A team of scientists from the University of Florence in Italy corroborated this in a 2012 study, in which they concluded that CBD and other cannabinoids may be useful in alleviating inflammation in people with respiratory disorders, ischemic stroke, and inflammatory pain.
– CBD May Help Reduce Asthma Drug-Related Anxiety
Anxiety can have a devastating impact on your mental health and well-being. Unfortunately, most asthma medications like traditional inhalers are packed with stimulants which, although they are great bronchodilators, can cause or heighten anxiety.
Given that the anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties of CBD are well-recognized, it’s possible that it could be used in conjunction with inhalers to stave off anxiety.
Are There Any Safety Concerns around Asthma and CBD?
There’s a lot of excitement around CBD and asthma. Yes, early studies seem to suggest that CBD may help reduce inflammation, muscle spascity, and anxiety. This may be crucial for people who suffer through the ordeal of asthma symptoms.
Yet, however, scientists are not clear if or how much CBD is safe for asthma, and precisely for how long. Not much has also been investigated in terms of drug interactions.
With this in mind, you must consult a physician before beginning a CBD regimen. Your doctor will consider your symptoms, type of asthma you have, its severity, and medications you might be taking.
Despite any potential benefits, there’s a growing concern around CBD and asthma. This risk is especially true for people who plan to smoke or vape CBD.
Lungs are sensitive organs, and smoke can trigger inflammation in the airways, making asthma symptoms even worse.
Scientists have demonstrated that smoking any cannabis-derived substance (including CBD) may elevate your risk for an asthma flare-up. In fact, in severe situations, patients may need hospitalization to avoid life-threatening complications from creeping in.
Smoking, and in some cases, vaping CBD may cause bullae (large air sacs) to grow in the airways and other lung cavities. Your risk of developing these air sacs is much higher if you are 45 years of age or younger, according to the American Thoracic Society (ATS).
If left untreated, bullae will become so large that they’ll obstruct your lung airways and cause massive breathing disruption. In the short-term, this can be manifested in the form of:
- Shortness of breath
- Phlegm (thick mucus filling the lung airways)
- Respiratory infections
- Constant coughing
The worst-case scenario is that you will develop a pneumothorax, a collapsed lung, which is a life-threatening emergency caused by bullae rupturing in your lungs.
In addition, state and federal health agencies have started investigating a worrying outbreak of a serious lung disease linked to vaping e-cigarettes. Research has also shown that vaping, no matter what you vape, can have adverse effects on your lungs.
In one particular 2015 dual study, researchers noted that vaping has a series of negative effects on both mice and human lung cells. In specific, they found that it increases inflammation, oxidation, and toxicity in the lungs, all of which are serious complications for someone suffering from asthma.
Save for these usage concerns, research on CBD and asthma may be somewhat encouraging for patients who have allergic asthma. But as with much of the medical and CBD world, more research is advisable.
How should you take CBD if you have asthma?
The biggest challenge with taking CBD is making sure not to do more harm than good. The science stacks up – vaping or smoking CBD oil would present the most potential health risks for asthma patients.
When it comes to CBD and asthma, choosing the right dosage and method of consumption often boils down to several factors, including:
- Your metabolism
- What type of asthma you have
- How frequent and intense your asthma symptoms are
- Your body weight
- Your tolerance and sensitivity to THC
- Other medications you might be taking
As always, it’s paramount that you work with your physician to determine which form of CBD is right for your condition.
One other thing to keep in mind is that CBD products out there are either full-spectrum or broad-spectrum. You can also find CBD isolates that have pure CBD and no other cannabinoids.
Full-spectrum CBD boasts every natural cannabinoid a hemp plant may contain, including THC, CBD, CBN, and others. Depending on the source plant, it may also be packed with naturally-occuring fatty acids, essential vitamins, protein, antioxidants, and more.
A phenomenon called “entourage effect” is a game-changer for full-spectrums, as the presence of other cannabinoids is known to help enhance the therapeutic effects of CBD.
For a number of reasons, some people prefer broad-spectrum CBD – which essentially contains everything full-spectrum has except for THC. This makes full-spectrum CBD products an ideal choice for people who are sensitive to THC.
All things considered, the following methods of CBD consumption may hold out promise of some benefit for asthma sufferers:
CBD tinctures are widely available today in small brown or dark bottles that come with a dropper. Traditionally, tinctures are herbal extracts infused in 60-70% alcohol; however, some producers are increasingly using MCT oil, glycerin, and other carrier oils.
Tinctures come in varying strengths of CBD, which makes it easy for you to pick the right potency for your condition. You can take tinctures orally or sublingually.
The region under the tongue is jam-packed with blood capillaries and tissues which absorb CBD rapidly. Just place a few drops under your tongue, and you can expect the therapeutic compound to enter the bloodstream in a matter of seconds. And the best news, most CBD tinctures offer relief for up to eight hours!
For this reason, the sublingual consumption of CBD oil tinctures may be a great option for people who you’re after quicker results.
Edibles are an extremely popular way to consume CBD, and there are loads to choose from. You can go for CBD gummies, powders, cookies, lollipops, chocolates, mints or even truffles – there’s clearly something for every palate. They are discreet, portable, cheap, and of course, tasty!
CBD gummies are commonly used by asthma sufferers because you don’t have to guess your dose. Each standard CBD gummy typically has 5 mg of the active ingredient.
Because edibles go through the “first-pass effect,” you might have to wait up to 2 hours for CBD effects to be felt. About 20-30% of the CBD consumed will eventually end up in your bloodstream.
Obviously, edibles are not recommended since they take hours before the effects kick in. However, if you’re after discretion in your everyday use of CBD for prevention, then they are perfect for you.
CBD salves, lotions, creams, ointments, roll-ons, balms, and transdermal patches are the most commonly sold topicals. You can snag a few bottles from your neighborhood drug store, grocery shop, pharmacy, vape shop, or online.
CBD topicals are applied directly to the skin, in which case the CBD is absorbed into the bloodstream trans-dermally. Some of them incorporate other soothing ingredients like eucalyptus oil, camphor, lavender, peppermint or menthol.
These topicals are designed to offer localized relief, meaning you should use it directly on where you need relief. For asthma patients, rubbing a cream or salve on the chest area may help open the airways and relieve some symptoms.
– Capsules and Pills
CBD also comes in standard capsule and pill form which may be useful for systemic treatment of asthma symptoms.
CBD capsules and pills, however, are subject to the first-pass effect, which reduces their levels of bioavailability. In fact, only 20%-30% of ingested CBD will reach your bloodstream.
Since the capsules must be digested first, it will take 2-4 hours for the effects to be felt, so any impact may take quite a while to be felt.
Asthma is a lifelong lung condition that – when triggered — makes it hard to breathe. Its hallmark signs include coughing, wheezing, short breath, and chest tightness.
As of yet, there’s no cure for asthma, which means treatment is all about curbing the symptoms and preventing flare-ups. With inhalers, tablets, injections, steroids, and other asthma medications readily available, it’s easy to manage the condition and lead a normal, fruitful life.
A huge blow for sufferers is that many asthma medications have side effects, ranging from headaches and to anxiety and occasionally more serious ones like suicidal thoughts.
An increasing number of asthma sufferers are turning to CBD as a safer way to tackle symptoms without the side effects. Some of them may have seen positive benefits by using CBD and asthma medication together.
The potential allure of CBD is that it’s generally safe, well-tolerated, and effective, as noted by WHO in its recent review report, although CBD has not been studied for its impact on asthma specifically.
Research has also shown that CBD may have pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, and anxiolytic properties, all of which could potentially be useful for asthma patients, though no established research shows CBD specifically reducing this symptom in asthma patients.
More importantly, CBD, when used in combination with THC, may have a bronchodilatory effect, helping reduce spasms in lung muscles, prevent inflammation, and open airways. This way, THC-containing CBD oil not only improves lung function but also eases breathing and other asthma symptoms.
Despite these enormous benefits, CBD may pose a great risk for people with asthma if it’s smoked or vaped. That’s why edibles, tinctures, topicals, beverages, capsules, and pills are the preferred methods for taking CBD.
As a general rule thumb, it’s advisable that you consult with your physician before you start a CBD regimen and that you continue taking your regular asthma medication unless your doctor states otherwise.