Changes in marijuana laws and the increased use of medicinal marijuana have led to questions about what conditions it can be used to treat. Many people wonder whether marijuana can affect or treat asthma.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that occurs when the airways in the chest get narrower or become inflamed. Symptoms of asthma include coughing, difficulty breathing, and wheezing.

There is no cure for asthma, so treatment involves managing the symptoms and preventing complications. Could marijuana help reduce symptoms? Read on for more information about the possible benefits and risks.

Marijuana for asthma

Marijuana plant for asthma
Marijuana contains anti-inflammatory properties.

Marijuana is available to use in many forms other than smoking. For example, water vaporizers or bongs filter the smoke through water, which may reduce the potential for lung irritation.

There are also edible and topical forms of marijuana, such as cannabidiol (CBD) oils, which may be more suitable for someone with asthma.

These products may give the benefits of marijuana without the risk of lung irritation.

Benefits

Marijuana is a type of cannabinoid, which is known to contain anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties.

Sometimes, it is used medicinally to treat chronic conditions that cause pain and inflammation, such as multiple sclerosis and cancer. Researchers have looked into whether people with other inflammatory conditions, such as asthma, can use marijuana safely.

Research has found that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active component in marijuana, can help suppress the immune system, which may help reduce symptoms caused by autoimmune diseases such as asthma.

There is a variety of ways to use marijuana. Much of the research on cannabinoids for asthma has focused on the cannabinoid chemical, rather than more popular forms.

For example, a 2013 study found potential benefits from the use of a water vaporizer. The study found that people using a vaporizer were significantly less likely to combine marijuana with tobacco than if they were smoking it.

They also found that people perceived some health benefits when using a vaporizer, as they were inhaling vapor and not actual smoke.

Another 2015 review argues that inhaling marijuana through a vaporizer is likely less harmful than smoking it, especially as frequent smokers often report respiratory problems such as coughing and wheezing.

Risks

Woman coughing
Smoking marijuana can increase wheezing and coughing.

Despite some research that suggests that some forms of marijuana may be beneficial for people with asthma, it still has risks.

Smoking marijuana can make some asthma symptoms worse, including:

  • coughing
  • increased phlegm
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • swelling of the throat

These symptoms are usually short-lived and will go away once someone stops smoking. However, these symptoms can trigger an asthma attack in someone with asthma.

Smoking any substance, including marijuana, can be extremely irritating to the lung tissue. Lung irritants can trigger or worsen asthma attacks in some people.

For that reason, it is essential that someone with asthma or another lung disease avoids smoking any substance, including marijuana.

In addition to making asthma symptoms worse, people who are heavy marijuana smokers may have an increased risk of developing bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

It is unknown whether this increased risk is also found in people who are light smokers.

Smoking marijuana can cause bullae to form in the lungs. Bullae are large air sacs that can make it more difficult to breathe. They can also rupture or pop, which can trigger a lung to collapse. A collapsed lung can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.

Talk to a doctor

It is essential to speak with the doctor before starting any additional treatments for a chronic disease, such as asthma.

Because of the potential risks associated with using medical marijuana, a doctor is the best person to advise whether it might be an effective treatment.

The bottom line

The laws regarding marijuana and medical marijuana are constantly developing. Many people may wonder if using marijuana or a marijuana product could help reduce the symptoms of chronic conditions such as asthma.

For people with asthma, there may be some potential benefits to using the active compound in marijuana.

Smoking marijuana can be very risky for people with respiratory conditions, so they should consider using alternate forms, such as vapors or edible oils.

It is important to be honest with a doctor about the amount and type of marijuana used, especially for people with chronic medical conditions.