The reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that asthma affects 339 million people worldwide. It has definitely earned a spot as one of the chronic ailments that could use an effective, natural treatment.
With CBD becoming more and more popular, some asthmatics have decided to give it a leap of faith. Many people, however, are concerned whether CBD and asthma are actually a good match.
CBD (cannabidiol) is the non-intoxicating compound of hemp or marijuana plants. It has created the latest gold-rush in the wellness industry thanks to its versatility and an excellent safety profile.
Hemp-derived CBD is legal in all 50 states under the 2018 Farm Bill. You can find it over the counter in health retail outlets, dispensaries, and vape shops. It comes in tinctures, capsules, edibles, topicals, vapes, and even pet products.
But can CBD actually help asthma sufferers reduce the symptoms of their illness?
Let’s dive into this!
Asthma is a common chronic disorder of the lungs that starts in the respiratory airways due to inflammation and swelling. The lung airways become narrowed, constricted, and filled with mucus, enabling the person to breathe properly.
There are several types of asthma. Allergic asthma, which is the overreaction of the immune system when allergens appear, is the most common one. Allergens that may cause asthma include pollen, dust mite excrements, mold spores, cold, germ-ridden dirt, and pet dander.
Asthmatics accounts for about 8% of the U.S. general population. 10 Americans are diagnosed with the condition every day, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What Are the Symptoms of Asthma?
Whether your asthma is chronic or induced by allergy, people with the condition typically experience a similar range of symptoms, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Chest pain and/or tightness
The above symptoms usually vary between individuals, as they often become noticeable at certain times, such as when exercising, during cold weather, or when exposed to allergens.
For some patients, asthma is a mild ailment. However, others may experience serious health issues, such as severe asthma attacks which can put a person’s life at risk.
An asthma attack refers to an episode that involves a sudden worsening of symptoms. These flare-ups, as people usually call them, contribute to roughly 2 million emergency room visits every year and can seriously deteriorate the patient’s quality of life. Without proper treatment and immediate medical care, an asthma attack can lead to death.
How is Asthma Diagnosed?
Physicians usually check for symptoms as well as order a few simple tests to diagnose asthma. You’re not likely to see a respiratory specialist unless your doctor deems it necessary due to a supposedly another underlying disorder.
Physical examination is the most common method to check if a person has asthma. Your doctor may ask you the following questions:
- What symptoms are you experiencing?
- When and how often do these symptoms occur?
- What else might be triggering them?
- Do any of your close relatives have asthma?
- Are you allergic or have conditions like eczema or COPD?
Another way to diagnose asthma is to run a lung function test, such as the peak flow test or spirometry.
The peak flow will measure the force with which you can exhale air from the lungs. If you score below normal readings, it’s often an indicator that your lungs aren’t functioning properly. It can also mean that you have asthma.
Spirometry requires you to blow into a gadget that will measure how much air you can both inhale and the force and speed with which you can expel the air. This test provides an overall image of how your lungs function.
Other asthma tests include:
- FeNO Test: it measures the nitric oxide levels of your breath (a common marker of the lung inflammation).
- Allergy Test: these are done to establish if your asthma is caused by allergies.
- Imaging Tests: you may be asked to take a CT scan or a chest X-ray scan to take any infections out of the equation.
- Sputum Eosinophils: it checks for the presence of specific white blood cells that amplify asthma symptoms.
- Methacholine Challenge: this test checks for signs of hidden or asymptomatic asthma.
- Provocative Testing: provocative tests allow a physician to check for airway constriction or obstruction before and after you have been exposed to physical activity or cold temperatures.
Why Are Some People Turning to CBD for Asthma?
Managing the symptoms of asthma isn’t a walk in the park. It requires you to take an all-around approach to your lungs’ health. While there are certain prescription medications that you can take to keep asthma attacks at bay and ease symptoms, many of them have dangerous side effects that can be discouraging.
Regular use of preventive inhalers can leave you with a sore throat, tatty voice, and oral fungal infections. Substances like zileuton, which are leukotriene modifiers, may sometimes increase the risk of depression or cause hallucinations and even suicidal thoughts.
Could CBD be the proverbial miracle in the bottle for asthmatics?
There’s an emerging body of research targeting CBD’s potential as an alternative treatment for asthma symptoms. Some studies have actually suggested that CBD may benefit asthmatics.
The attention of the medical community stems from their curiosity about whether CBD can offer relief for the symptoms of asthma rather than curing it.
How CBD Can Help with Asthma
While cannabis as the whole plant has been on the radar of medical researchers for quite some time now, it’s CBD that has recently become the apple in their eye — and for good reasons.
Here’s how taking CBD can help with your asthma symptoms.
CBD Oil Is an Anti-inflammatory
Inflammation in the lungs is the major contributor to asthma attacks. When an asthma sufferer gets exposed to allergens or other irritants, the immune system sends out an inflammatory response.
Inflamed airways may lead to muscle spasms and secretion of too much mucus. The outcome is dangerous because clogged, narrowed airways filled with mucus make breathing in and out extremely difficult.
This is where CBD may shine.
Scientists have attributed CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties to its interaction with the endocannabinoid receptor CB2, which helps reduce the levels of pro-inflammatory cells such as C fibers or mast cells.
A 2019 study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology found that CBD use may reduce inflammatory reactions and promote the recovery of lung function in patients with allergy-induced asthma (1).
Similar findings were reported a few years earlier in a 2012 study (2), in which the research team concluded that CBD and other cannabinoids are potent anti-inflammatory agents that can help people with respiratory disorders, inflammatory pain, and ischemic stroke.
CBD Oil Is an Antispasmodic
During an asthma attack, individuals experience spasms that affect the bronchi and bronchioles due to contracting the muscles in the lungs, which makes breathing difficult and causes wheezing.
Recent research has shown that CBD may help relieve muscle spasticity. By reducing muscle spasms, it helps open the airways, easing asthma symptoms. This trait has also been proven in the studies aimed at determining the therapeutic potential of CBD for epilepsy.
In a 2015 study (3) testing the efficacy of Sativex — an oral spray containing THC and CBD in 50:50 ratio — on multiple sclerosis patients, researchers reported considerable improvements in both muscle spasticity and mobility.
Although more large-scale clinical trials are needed to establish CBD’s efficacy for asthma, the cannabinoid offers potential benefits for MS patients who experience muscle spasms. It’s possible that CBD may also help relax the muscles in the lungs and allow asthma sufferers to breathe easily as a result. Still, we suggest that you consult a doctor before taking CBD oil for asthma.
CBD Oil May Reduce Asthma Drug-Induced Anxiety
Anxiety can seriously impair one’s quality of life by taking a toll on your mental health and well-being. The majority of asthma medications like traditional inhalers are infused with stimulants. These compounds, although they are effective bronchodilators, can cause or exacerbate anxiety.
CBD has been recognized by its remarkable anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties in several experimental models, so there’s a chance that you can benefit from it in conjunction with conventional treatments to prevent anxious episodes (4).
CBD vs Conventional Asthma Treatments
There are two types of medications for asthma sufferers depending on your individual situation: short-term medications and long-term treatments.
Short-term medications include:
- Rescue inhalers
While rescue inhalers and nebulizers are relatively safe, regular use of anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids can have adverse side effects, and as such, they should be used on a short-term basis.
The above short-term solutions are often taken in conjunction with some of the following long-term medications:
- Leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs)
- Long-acting beta-agonists
- Inhaled corticosteroids
- Combined inhalers
- Allergy medications
- Injections (for severe asthma cases)
If nothing else seems to help, a doctor may recommend bronchial thermoplasty as a last-resort option. This special procedure is rare but effective and relatively safe.
Home remedies are often used in tandem with conventional asthma treatments to prevent intensification of symptoms and flare-ups. Common home remedies include essential oils from herbs, caffeinated drinks, and mustard oil (as an ointment).
Is CBD Safe for People with Asthma?
The use of CBD for asthma brings a lot of excitement considering the anti-inflammatory and bronchodilating potential of CBD. Early studies suggest that CBD may help reduce anxiety, inflammation, and muscle spasticity, induced by conventional medications.
CBD has a very good safety profile. It is well tolerated in humans even in doses as high as 1,500 mg daily. However, scientists haven’t investigated the safety of CBD specifically in relation to asthma.
The biggest concern shared by doctors is about CBD’s ability to interact with other drugs. CBD is metabolized by the same group of enzymes that process active ingredients in pharmaceutical medications. Therefore, we suggest that you consult with your doctor before adding CBD oil to your daily routine.
Experts suggest that people with asthma choose CBD products that don’t involve inhalation. Smoking or vaping CBD isn’t recommended due to the risk of large air sacs growth in the airways and other lung cavities.
How Should You Take CBD for Asthma?
This is the most challenging part of using CBD when you have asthma. We’ve already made it clear that smoking and vaping are out of the question, but what’s the best way to take CBD for asthma?
Choosing the right dosage and form of consumption often involves several factors, such as:
- Your body weight
- Your metabolism
- The type of asthma you have
- Your previous experience with CBD
- The intensity and frequency of your asthma symptoms
- Other medications you might be taking.
Again, it’s of the utmost importance that you work with your doctor to determine which CBD product is right for your situation.
Another thing to keep in mind is the cannabinoid spectrum. CBD products are either full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or isolates. Full-spectrum CBD is made using the entire plant and contains all the compounds you can find in hemp, including cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. These compounds work synergistically to increase the efficacy of CBD oil; this phenomenon is known as the entourage effect. Broad-spectrum CBD is pretty much the same, but without any THC inside the end product. Isolate is just pure CBD that has been separated from other compounds. Isolates are THC-free; they’re also odorless and flavorless, which makes them more versatile. However, they don’t promote the entourage effect.
All things considered, here are the most popular forms of CBD that you can use for asthma:
CBD Oil Drops
CBD oil is the most common form of CBD. It is sold in glass bottles with a dropper attached for precise dosing. CBD oil includes a hemp extract suspended in a carrier oil such as hemp seed oil, MCT oil, or olive oil.
CBD oil drops are available in a wide range of potency options and several different flavors. You can take them sublingually by placing a few drops under your tongue and holding them there for 60 seconds before swallowing — or add it to your food.
The area under the tongue is chock-full of tiny blood vessels which absorb CBD rapidly into the bloodstream. When taken this way, CBD doesn’t need to pass through the digestive system. The first effects usually come within 15–30 minutes after ingestion and last up to 6 hours.
CBD Capsules and Pills
CBD is also available in standard capsule form which may be useful for consistent supplementation with pre-measured doses of CBD. However, CBD capsules must go through the first-pass effect, which reduces their bioavailability. Only up to 20% of ingested CBD will reach your bloodstream.
It will usually take 40–90 minutes to experience the effects of CBD capsules. But on the other hand, they will last longer than those from CBD oil — even 10 hours.
Edibles have become extremely popular recently as a way to consume CBD. They range from gummies to cookies, chocolates, mints, truffles, or even lollipops.
CBD edibles are tasty, discreet, portable, and generally cheaper than CBD oil. Gummies are commonly used by asthmatics because they provide a fixed-dose in each gummy. The dosage ranges from 5 mg to 50 mg of CBD per piece.
Similar to capsules, edibles must pass through the digestive system, so you might have to wait up to 2 hours for the effects to be felt.
It goes without saying that edibles aren’t the best go-to consumption method due to the delayed onset, but if you value discretion in your CBD routine for prevention, they are worth a try.
CBD topicals is an umbrella term for products that you apply directly to the skin. You can find CBD in salves, creams, gels, ointments, balms, lotions, and transdermal patches.
Topical products are designed to target localized problems, such as inflammation and pain in the joints and muscles. Some of them combine CBD with other therapeutic ingredients, such as camphor, lavender, peppermint, menthol, or eucalyptus oil.
You should use CBD topicals directly on where you need relief. Asthma patients can benefit from topicals by rubbing a cream or salve on the chest area to help open the airways and relieve breathing difficulties.
Final Thoughts: Is CBD Oil a Viable Option for Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition that — when left untreated — can be life-threatening. Its tell-tale symptoms include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest.
There is currently no cure for asthma, which means a treatment is aimed at reducing the symptoms and preventing attacks. With inhalers, pills, steroids, injections, and other asthma medications, it’s easy to manage the symptoms and live a normal life.
However, conventional medications have side effects, ranging from anxiety to depression and occasionally more severe symptoms like suicidal thoughts. A growing number of asthma sufferers are turning to CBD as a safe alternative to deal with symptoms without side effects. Some of them have seen the positive effects of combining CBD with asthma medication.
According to a recent report from the WHO, CBD is generally safe, well-tolerated, and effective, although no studies have been conducted with regards to its efficacy in asthma patients.
Moreover, CBD has a bronchodilatory effect, which can help reduce muscle spasms and relax the lungs. Taking full-spectrum CBD oil may both improve lung function and make breathing easier.
If you want to start taking CBD for asthma, we encourage you to consult your doctor in order to avoid potential drug interactions. From there, you can choose the best form of CBD for your individual situation. However, remember that vaping and smoking CBD aren’t recommended, as they pose a risk of exacerbating your asthma symptoms.
- Vuolo, Francieli et al. “Cannabidiol reduces airway inflammation and fibrosis in experimental allergic asthma.” European journal of pharmacology vol. 843 (2019): 251-259. doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2018.11.029
- Pini, Alessandro et al. “The role of cannabinoids in inflammatory modulation of allergic respiratory disorders, inflammatory pain and ischemic stroke.” Current drug targets vol. 13,7 (2012): 984-93. doi:10.2174/138945012800675786
- Russo, M., Calabro, R.S. and Bramanti, P. “Sativex in the Management of Multiple Sclerosis-Related Spasticity: Role of the Corticospinal Modulation.” Neural Plast (2015).
- Shannon, S. et al. “Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series.” The Permanente Journal (2019), 23: 18–041.