Imagine that you begin to have chest pain, and then you begin to breathe more rapidly — then imagine you also have to breathe through a straw. This is what an asthma attack feels like for many people. Is using CBD for asthma a way to eliminate this feeling for those that live their lives with inhalers always on hand?
Asthma is a medical condition that affects 1 out of 13 people in the United States. Although there are medications to help people manage symptoms during an attack, asthma can still be life-threatening. Asthma can prevent people from engaging in sports or exercise, as well as cause them to avoid going outdoors or owning pets.
Those with asthma are understandably interested in new ways to manage their symptoms in hopes of making life a little more manageable and enjoyable.
CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects are well established, especially when customers use the best CBD products that are available. A major aspect of asthma is the inflammation of the airways. With this connection, there has been talk of using CBD for helping relieve asthma symptoms. But what do we know so far about the potential of using CBD for asthma?
CBD for Asthma: Just the Facts
Asthma is a prevalent condition in the U.S., which can affect a person’s quality of life and can be life threatening. Conventional treatments are primarily aimed at reducing inflammation in the lungs. Researchers have been looking at the possibilities of using CBD for asthma due to its anti-inflammatory properties via the endocannabinoid system. Animal studies are positive; however, we need human studies, as well as studies on the mode of delivery to know if CBD has a place in the management of asthma and its symptoms.
A Deeper Look at Asthma
Asthma is a condition that affects a person’s ability to breathe. It causes episodes when the airways narrow, become inflamed, and produce excess mucus — known as asthma attacks.
Asthma attacks are brought on by specific triggers that are different for each person. Common triggers include:
- Allergens (like pet hair)
- Environmental irritants
- Dust mites
- Colds and flu
- Cold air
- Food allergies or intolerances
There are different classifications of asthma based on the severity and frequency of symptoms:
- Mild intermittent: Mild symptoms up to two days a week and up to two nights a month
- Mild persistent: Symptoms more than twice a week, but no more than once in a single day
- Moderate persistent: Symptoms once a day and more than one night a week
- Severe persistent: Symptoms throughout the day on most days and frequently at night
Every person’s experience with asthma is different. For some people, symptoms are mild and infrequent, and for others, symptoms are severe, persistent, and life-threatening. Common symptoms of asthma attacks include:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Chest tightness
A Reddit user describes his experience of asthma attacks:
“In the case of an all-out asthma attack, I don’t know when these are coming, and my chest feels tight and hot, and my lungs literally feel smaller — like a full breath is only maybe a third the size as normal. It’s pretty horrible because you can’t catch your breath and it feels like if you keep breathing, you’ll eventually pass out; like every breath you’re exhaling more than you’re taking back in.”
What Causes a Person to Develop Asthma?
Although asthma is a prevalent condition, we do not entirely understand what causes some people to develop it. There may be a genetic link, as it is more common in people whose parents have asthma. In addition, smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke or pollution, and being overweight increase the risk of developing asthma.
Research has also found that babies born through C-section are at increased risk of developing asthma.
Complications of Asthma
Controlling asthma symptoms is critical, but it will not always prevent future attacks. Asthma can be life-threatening if it is not appropriately managed, and it can cause both short-term and long-term complications.
Asthma attacks may decrease a person’s quality of life by preventing them from participating in physical activities, enjoying the outdoors, or being around animals. For some people, asthma increases the number of sick days they take from work.
Physically, a person’s lungs may develop scarring from the chronic inflammation seen in asthma.
Conventional Treatment of Asthma
The traditional treatment approach to asthma is multifactorial. An important piece is recognizing your triggers and avoiding them as much as possible. In addition, medication management to both prevent and treat attacks is typically part of the picture.
Medications to prevent asthma attacks are geared at reducing inflammation levels. These are considered long-acting medications and include inhaled steroids, leukotriene modifiers, and long-acting beta-agonists. However, these medications have several side effects, and beta-agonists can potentially increase the risk of a severe asthma attack.
Asthma treatment also includes short-term medications to use while experiencing asthma symptoms or before exercise. The most common is a short-acting beta-agonist inhaler, which is a bronchodilator that essentially opens up the lungs.
Often, a person feels like they are suffocating during an asthma attack, which causes anxiety. Inhaled bronchodilators can increase anxiety levels in people, which may worsen this symptom.
Alternative therapies may also have a place. Some herbs such as Pycnogenol have been shown to decrease inflammation and help with asthma symptoms. This opens the door for the investigation of other herbal therapies, such as using CBD for asthma.
CBD for Asthma: What Do We Know So Far?
Since the legalization of CBD in the United States, researchers have been conducting numerous studies on how CBD may be useful for different health conditions, including pain, anxiety, and seizures. They have also been looking at how CBD affects the body.
They have found that CBD activates the endocannabinoid system, which is controlled through several receptors called CB1 and CB2 receptors. When stimulated, the endocannabinoid system decreases the inflammation response and pain levels, as well as impacts emotions such as anxiety.
Given the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD, it makes sense that CBD may be helpful for asthma. We still have a long way to go, but let’s look at what we know so far about CBD for asthma.
What is CBD?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is found in the cannabis sativa plant. CBD products are derived from the industrial hemp plant — not the marijuana plant. Although both of these plants contain CBD, the marijuana plant also contains high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which produces psychoactive effects.
CBD is extracted and purified from the industrial hemp plant, which is then used to create various CBD products. CBD is available in many forms, including oils, gummies, topical creams, and vape pens.
What the Research Says on CBD for Asthma
There have not been any human clinical trials on the use of CBD for asthma. Animal studies on CBD for asthma have shown that CBD is a potent anti-inflammatory, capable of reducing several markers of inflammation in the blood.
A study using guinea pigs looked at how the endocannabinoid system may have a role in the lung inflammation seen in asthma. They found that both CD1 and CB2 receptors have a role in lung inflammation and airway constriction. CBD activates both of these receptors, and CBD was shown to produce significant improvements in their animal models’ lungs.
A very recent study on mice found that CBD reversed lung inflammation and decreased airway constriction in response to allergens and triggers.
Animal studies have been very promising. However, there are still many gaps in our current knowledge of the use of CBD for asthma.
Research in humans has shown that CBD effectively reduces anxiety levels. Given that many asthma patients experience anxiety, this is an essential factor in managing asthma symptoms.
It is important to see if the effects of CBD in humans produce the same outcomes as they do in animal studies. In addition, studies looking at the different modes of consuming CBD, such as vaping vs. oral consumption, will help inform what the safest and most effective ways to take CBD are.
A Summary of What the Research Says
There have not been any human studies on CBD for asthma yet. Research shows that CBD has potent anti-inflammatory properties through activating the endocannabinoid system.
Animal studies have found that CBD decreases inflammation and constriction of the lungs, which are two key elements of asthma.
CBD has been shown to decrease anxiety, a common symptom of asthma attacks.
Final Thoughts on Using CBD for Asthma
Research on the uses for CBD is still in its early stages. However, what we know so far about using CBD for asthma is hopeful. Given that CBD can reduce inflammation in the body (including the lungs) in animals, it may be a valuable piece in asthma management.
It is important to consider the different delivery methods of CBD to understand how to best use CBD in managing asthma symptoms. In short, we need more studies on humans that include different delivery methods.
If you are interested in using CBD for asthma, always speak with your doctor first, and never stop using or change your medications without the advice of your doctor.