Asthma is a lung condition that causes inflammation in the airways and leads to breathing difficulties. Today, this condition affects 5-10% of children worldwide. Due to its prevalence, we are fortunate to have good treatment options for asthma. However, when people search for natural remedies for asthma, they often find that they are not well-documented. This is unfortunate because we know that plants like hemp can have a significant impact on the respiratory system. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the CBD derivative from hemp and how it might help people with asthma.
What is asthma?
To understand why CBD might help people with asthma, you need to grasp how asthma works. When people with asthma breathe, the lining of their lung airways can become inflamed. As a result, mucus fills the airways, which become much narrower. This is what triggers an asthma attack, as the narrowed airways don’t allow enough air to pass through, causing the body to experience oxygen deficiency, commonly known as an asthma attack.
If you have asthma, you’re likely to recognize it right away. The symptoms can be intense and easily recognizable. They include coughing (especially with laughter or exercise), wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Generally, these symptoms also come with a sense of pain, inflammation, and pressure in the chest. However, asthma is also a complex condition that has many different subtypes. Identifying these subtypes is important when seeking the right relief.
What are the different types of asthma?
There are many different types of asthma, characterized by the intensity of attacks and their triggers. For example, people who suffer from allergic asthma usually have several recognized or unrecognized allergies to pollen, dust, specific foods, or certain pets. Their asthma attacks are triggered by these allergens, and they must carry an inhaler with them in case they come into contact with any of these triggers.
The vast majority of other asthma cases are categorized as non-allergic asthma. In people with this condition, an asthma attack can occur at any time, and it is difficult to identify the true triggers.
Occupational asthma is characterized by asthma attacks that occur specifically at work. For instance, in individuals who work in environments filled with dust, flour, or any other form of powder, this condition might develop. To be diagnosed with occupational asthma, your asthma attacks must be present only when you are at work.
Finally, severe asthma is a rare condition that indicates a higher level of asthma severity. People who suffer from severe asthma experience frequent asthma attacks, need to use their inhalers and/or other forms of medication several times a week, and may not respond well to treatment.
What is the main cause of asthma?
As we have seen, different forms of asthma have different triggers. For example, people with allergic asthma can be triggered by cat dander or pollen. People with occupational asthma can be triggered by dust or powder they inhale at work. And of course, many people are unaware of their triggers.
But when it comes to the cause of asthma, things are a bit murkier. Scientists believe that genetics play an important role. However, the things you were exposed to in your early years might play an even bigger role. For instance, having a viral infection during childhood could make you more susceptible to asthma. Exposure to allergens in early childhood could also increase your chances of developing asthma. Lastly, some researchers speculate that individuals who weren’t exposed to enough bacteria in their early years may have a weaker immune system, which increases their likelihood of experiencing asthma.
Can asthma go away? Treatment options for asthmatics
Many people suffer from asthma during childhood and find that this condition fades with age. However, asthma doesn’t always resolve on its own. Fortunately, there are many treatment options available for those experiencing asthmatic episodes. During an asthma attack, inhalers and bronchodilator medications can be used. They work to widen the airways in the lungs and help you breathe more easily.
In the long term, practicing various breathing exercises can improve lung capacity, which could potentially reduce the severity of an asthma attack. If you don’t have asthma, engaging in physical activity could also enhance lung capacity and thus prevent further asthma attacks.
Finally, people with more severe asthma may need to take preventive medications every day. For instance, corticosteroids have strong anti-inflammatory effects and can help prevent attacks in the long term.
What is CBD and could it be another treatment option?
CBD is a molecule derived from the hemp plant. Unlike other hemp molecules, CBD is non-psychoactive. It has numerous health benefits for the entire body. For instance, it reduces pain, inflammation, and stress. It can prevent seizures in people with epilepsy, aid digestion in those with Crohn’s disease, and even help individuals with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or bipolar disorder feel better. All the benefits of CBD stem from one simple fact: its interaction with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This biological system is responsible for regulating many different bodily functions, and scientists are continuously learning more about its significance in medicine.
When we consume CBD, it binds to endocannabinoid receptors in the body, thereby enhancing the ECS. This can provide relief from pain, nausea, and skin irritation. Today, we understand that the endocannabinoid system also plays a significant role in the respiratory system, which is why CBD could be potentially beneficial in treating asthma. But what do we currently know about this?
Cannabis and asthma
The first wave of research on the potential benefits of medical cannabis for asthma did not focus on CBD. Instead, they examined the role of its sibling molecule THC.
For example, in a 1978 study (link to study), researchers administered doses of THC ranging from 50 to 200 mg to asthmatic volunteers in the form of an aerosol device. They found that taking THC increased flow in patients almost immediately. They concluded that THC has a bronchodilator effect, which means it dilates the bronchial tubes like most asthma medications;
Can CBD oil help with respiratory problems?
Studies on the use of CBD oil or other CBD products to treat asthma are still very limited. So far, we have only a few animal studies and we still lack clinical studies on asthma patients;
However, what we already know about the role of the endocannabinoid system in asthma regulation is promising. A 2012 review (link), for example, highlighted that activation of endocannabinoid receptors on bronchial tubes had bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory effects. This allows us to assume that a drug that delivers CBD to the bronchial tubes (as an inhaler) could activate these receptors and provide relief to asthma patients;
These hypotheses have been confirmed through several animal studies. For example, a 2019 study (link to study) showed that CBD reduces inflammation and facilitates airflow in mice with asthma. Even a relatively small dose gave them relief from asthma attacks. Because mice and humans have an endocannabinoid system that functions in a largely similar way, this gives asthma sufferers hope that CBD-based asthma medications could be effective;
Before we can conclude that CBD is a safe and valid treatment for asthma, we will of course need human studies. But understanding the role that the endocannabinoid system plays in the bronchial tubes will be a key piece of the puzzle;
Is CBD dangerous for people with asthma?
So far, we have too few studies of people with asthma taking CBD to talk about any side effects. We know that as a molecule, CBD has a good safety profile. And none of its side effects seem to affect the lungs or breathing ability, although asthmatics should obviously not smoke or vape CBD products, as smoking and vaping can have negative effects on the airways;
The real danger would be to replace proven asthma treatment with CBD, which has not yet been tested for this use. If asthma is not treated, it can lead to serious complications and even death. Replacing any of the asthma medications you are currently taking could have dire consequences, and it’s crucial to avoid it at all costs – at least consult with your doctor before considering replacing any medications with CBD.
The use of CBD is one of the most promising potential natural ways to treat asthma. This is due to what we know about the role of the endocannabinoid system in asthma attacks – not because we know that it works for asthmatics. For such a serious condition like asthma, a lot of clinical research will be needed before we can conclude that CBD can be used as a simple supplementary option. However, thanks to the rapid increase in CBD studies in recent years, we can hope that these studies will be published soon.