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Can THC Help After a COPD Diagnosis?

ChristineColbert
copd diagnosis in progress as doctor puts stethoscope to patient's chest

Studies as far back as the 1970s point to the positive benefit of THC on restricted airways.

When treating patients with a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the pharmaceutical approach includes medication containing steroids and opiates. Patients report discomfort with side effects and there are additional health risks. This is why novel treatments are needed. Fortunately, there are numerous studies that show THC may provide an alternate form of COPD treatment.

In fact, studies about the bronchodilation effects of THC on human airways goes all the way back to the 1970s. One such study showed that small doses of THC, delivered by aerosol, could result in bronchodilation by improving peak expiratory flow rate and forced expiratory volume.

Patients with trouble breathing can find relief without the undesirable side effects of opiates and steroids. Further, THC decreases muscle contractions and spasms in the bronchi. Each increase in dose brings greater relief.

However, THC treatment has its own set of side effects — namely, the psychoactive effect inherent in THC. But even so, these studies have pointed to a possibly viable treatment for asthmatic patients.

copd diagnosis in progress as doctor puts stethoscope to patients chest

What Is COPD?

COPD is a term that includes conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. It’s a disease that progresses, meaning, it gets worse over time. Inflammation causes airways to swell and become constricted, making it difficult for patients with COPD to breathe. This greatly impacts quality of life as many COPD patients lack the energy to complete every day tasks, such as dusting or vacuuming. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

As the disease progresses, lung tissue begins to deteriorate and airways collapse, and this damage is irreversible. Patients get four to six hours of relief from bronchodilators that relax the muscles in the body’s airways. Typically, these bronchodilators are delivered via inhaler or nebulizer, and work to relax airway muscles via the anti-inflammatory action of corticosteroids.

Many of the side effects that come along with pharmaceutical bronchodilators, however, include weight gain, decline in sex drive and blood sugar imbalance.

Other treatments for COPD include oxygen therapy, and in severe cases, surgery. Surgical options include bullectomy (removal of damaged air sacs) and lung transplant.

What Current Studies Say About THC After Diagnosis of COPD

A 2015 study, published in The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, set out to discover more about the active cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). It also investigated the receptors that produce anti-inflammatory, bronchodilator and antitussive (cough relieving) responses in the body. They found that, through enhancement of post-ganglionic acetylcholine release, THC helped open and calm airways of lab guinea pigs.

And in 2007, researchers published a study in the European Journal of Pharmacology that showed cannabinoids activating CB2 receptors had a positive, anti-inflammatory effects on the lungs. They showed that eleven out of twelve challenge studies found bronchodilation following short-term cannabis administration. However, they were not able to link bronchodilation to long-term consumption. In all fourteen cases of long-term administration, respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing and phlegm were noted.

Even so, the World Health Organization has recognized the possibility of using THC to treat asthma and other airway diseases by reducing inflammation and promoting bronchodilation. After so many studies, the positive effects of THC on airways has been tentatively accepted.

With all of this emerging information, it seems the long-term effects of smoking cannabis on the lungs has yet to be definitively determined. Poor lung health can result from smoking anything over an extended period. In fact, a study, published in Breathe, concluded that chronic consumption of cannabis via smoking can produce some of the same effects as long-term tobacco smoking. Cessation reduces these symptoms.

So, how can patients effectively use cannabis medicine for  COPD if they can’t smoke it?

copd diagnosis leads woman to cough

Treating COPD With THC

Patients don’t have to vape or smoke cannabis to get the airway improving effects of THC. COPD patients are not advised to use this method of consumption. Alternate delivery systems will bring the anti-inflammatory and airway opening benefits. Cannabis oil, as well as inhalers and sprays are now widely available in states where cannabis has been legalized.

Inhalers can be helpful in treating acute symptoms, while cannabis oil may provide more consistent, daily relief. Oil and edibles provide more sustained anti-inflammatory action.

To find out the right cannabis treatment for your COPD diagnosis, consult your physician about your options.

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Christine Colbert
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