COPD: Can Marijuana Help?

As more states approve medical marijuana, its benefits – both possible and proven – seem to be growing like weeds. The drug, which comes from the cannabis plant, is used to relieve nerve pain, calm nausea during chemotherapy, treat glaucoma, and even manage post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Research shows that it can also open your airways. But can something you burn and breathe help with lung diseases caused by smoking, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD?

“We know there is some dilation of the airways when people inhale cannabis,” says Albert Rizzo MD, pulmonologist and chief medical officer at the American Lung Association. “However, when you inhale smoke, you trigger inflammation in the airways.”

You have to weigh the dangers and possible long-term effects of this swelling against the possible benefits of marijuana.

He still smokes

When new benefits emerge that associate marijuana with relieving symptoms or improving certain conditions, “people kind of get hooked on them,” says David Mannino, pulmonologist and medical director and co-founder of the COPD Foundation. . But, he says, “our lungs were designed to inhale air and nothing else. Just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe. “

If you smoke both tobacco and marijuana, you are more likely to have breathing problems and COPD. “The two practices of smoking tobacco and smoking marijuana are related,” Mannino says. “Many people who smoke marijuana also smoke cigarettes.”

A Canadian study showed that smoking marijuana alone did not increase the risk of breathing problems. But long-term heavy use of marijuana can lead to a condition called “marijuana lung”. Young marijuana smokers, in particular, have developed emphysema with large bubbles, air pockets that take up the space your lungs need for healthy breathing.

The American Lung Association and other professional respiratory societies point to the harms of inhaling any product that is combustible or intended to be burned. They tell people with respiratory problems like asthma and COPD to stick to the “proven” respiratory medications their doctor prescribes. These drugs have been the subject of clinical trials to show that they are safe and effective, says Rizzo.


More studies needed

Changes in federal laws that open up access to cannabis from many sources will help fuel much-needed research into how it affects the lungs, Rizzo says. Researchers should use cannabis products that are available in the general community or similar to those provided by medical marijuana dispensaries. This will more closely reflect the effects they have on users, he says.

Currently, 36 states in the United States have approved cannabis for medical purposes. Fifteen states allow marijuana for general use by adults.

People also inhale cannabis in different ways. “These include different devices, different breathing patterns, different intensities and frequencies of smoking that can be difficult to sort out in clinical trials.” Rizzo said. “We need more research.”

Vaping also brings toxins

There are so many differences between vaping devices, the way they are used, the ingredients, and the possible toxins in what you inhale. None of this is well studied, says Rizzo. “Again, more research is needed.”

“All of these vaping devices overheat … like crack pipes,” Mannino notes. “None of this is good for you.”

As for edibles, they are not smoked, so there is no evidence that they will damage the lungs. But there’s also no proof they’re safe, Mannino says. A study has found cause for concern about the largely uncontrolled and growing edible cannabis market. The varying or mixed strength of edibles has led to reports of mental distress, side effects related to the stomach and heart, and an increase in emergency room visits.

The dependency factor

Marijuana use also has “addictive components,” Mannino says. People can self-medicate with marijuana to treat other problems, such as anxiety.

“You might be dealing with one thing, but you’re causing another constellation of problems,” he says.

Talk to your doctor

If you want to try marijuana for a medical problem, see your doctor first. Be sure to be honest and direct.

“The benefits and risks should always be discussed between the patient and their health care provider,” says Rizzo.



Harvard Health Publishing: “Medical Marijuana”.

Albert A. Rizzo, MD, Chief Medical Officer, American Lung Association.

David Mannino, MD, director, Pulmonary Epidemiology Research Laboratory, University of Kentucky, Lexington; medical director, COPD Foundation.

Journal of the Canadian Medical Association: “Marijuana and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Population-Based Study.”

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Journal of the COPD Foundation: “Marijuana Lung.”

National Congress of State Legislatures: “State Medical Marijuana Laws”.

Frontiers in psychiatry: “Cannabis Legalization and Acute Harm from High Potency Cannabis Products: A Narrative Review and Public Health Recommendations. “

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