Ahimbe used to be a frequent reader of my blog.
He isn’t a reader anymore. He is a dear friend that frequently reads my blog 🙂
Ahimbe indirectly “asked” me to investigate CBD oil and asthma leaving me a comment on my IBS article.
Gently as always.
I love being asked to research a topic.
The teacher in me longs for the joy and the fulfillment of sharing knowledge; of informing and educating. The feeling is more than rewarding. It’s food for my soul.
So, today, I invite you to join me on a journey to the lungs.
Let’s take a deep breath and set off.
Understanding the mechanisms of asthma
What do Bono, David Beckham, Lindsay Lohan, and Eminem have in common?
They are all rich, famous and asthma sufferers…
The term “asthma” comes from the Greek word ἅσθμα, which means “panting”. The disease can be defined as a chronic inflammation disorder of the respiratory tract and more specifically of bronchial tubes.
To understand it better you should take a look at what happens in your body:
It all starts with a cough and/or a wheezing sound.
Shortly after, you begin feeling the discomfort of a tight chest.
Your breath becomes shallower, its speed increases and you are experiencing the agony of not being able to breathe properly.
Your neck and chest muscles are tightened and you have difficulties to speak.
Panic and anxiety levels rise and your face becomes pale and sweaty.
These are typical symptoms of an asthma attack. Of course, you may experience some of them or all of them. They may vary from an attack to another, depending on the severity of the situation.
According to the Global Asthma report, about 1000 people die from asthma every single day! The disease shows a significant rising global prevalence. It is estimated that around 340 million people suffer from it worldwide.
Asthma is a deadly disease.
But how does it work?
The disorder affects the respiratory system.
In normal conditions as you inhale air moves freely
- through your trachea or windpipe
- then through big tubes called bronchi and
- smaller tubes called bronchioles and
- finally into little sacs that are known as alveoli
Oxygen passes into small blood vessels (=capillaries) surrounding your alveoli; carbon dioxide passes out of them into your alveoli to be finally out of your body when you exhale.
Asthma affects the bronchi and the bronchioles also known as bronchial tubes.
These airways have an inner lining (=mucosa) surrounded by a smooth muscle.
In asthma patients, these airways are constantly inflamed and swollen. This chronic inflammation creates hyperresponsivity to specific triggers causing the airways to overreact resulting in an asthma attack.
What triggers asthma?
The factors that can activate an asthma exacerbation can be slightly different from individual to individual but they usually involve:
- Outdoor irritants and allergens, such as tobacco, pollen, smog, work-related fumes, exhaust, dust, synthetic fragrances, and cold weather.
- Indoor irritants and allergens, such as mold, pet dander, dust, mites, air fresheners, and cockroach droppings.
- Food allergens such as fish, shellfish, eggs, peanuts, soy, milk, wheat, food additives and preservatives (if you enjoy red wine think twice before your next sip. It contains sulfites, a known asthma trigger)
- Conditions involving respiratory infections, stress, strong emotions, intense exercise, and even the common cold!
- Common drugs, as beta-blockers (usually prescribed for high blood pressure, glaucoma and migraine headaches) and aspirin.
When asthmatic people are exposed to these factors an asthma attack (also known as bronchospasm) can occur.
Here is what happens inside your chest:
Triggered by some of the aforementioned factors, the smooth muscle rings around your bronchial tubes start contracting.
Your airways tighten.
At the same time, inflammation exacerbates causing the mucosa to swell. The secretion of thick mucus is increased.
In normal conditions the presence and amount of mucus are controlled and beneficial; your body uses it to trap and get rid of all the minuscular particles like dust and pollen that enter your system when you breathe.
During bronchospasm, though, the excess mucus blocks your airways causing you breathing difficulties.
These “activities” lead to and explain the symptoms of asthma.
You feel your chest tightened, right? It’s the smooth muscle contraction causing you this sensation.
Coughing is caused by mucus hypersecretion and increased inflammation.
And the wheezing sound is caused by the constriction of the airways. As the air passes through the very narrow space left in your bronchi, it makes a sounds similar to whistle or hiss.
All these symptoms make asthmatic people live the terror of not being able to breathe. (I am not an asthmatic but breath shortage utterly terrifies me)
This may seem counterintuitive, but during an asthma exacerbation, the inflammation might create you difficulties to exhale and not to inhale as you would expect. This may lead to an overabundance of air in your lungs (=hyperinflation)
The excess air inside your lungs obliges your system to work overtime in order to maintain an acceptable rhythm of air moving in and out of your body. Frequent hyperinflation can cause a reduction in the amounts of oxygen delivered to your tissues and organs.
Oxygen is life, remember?
As if the disease itself weren’t enough, the disorder is often associated with various comorbidities.
A Meta-analysis of eleven studies studying 117,548 asthma patients compared with 443,948 non-asthma controls reports that the prevalence of comorbidities was significantly higher in asthmatic patients.
These comorbidities are categorized into
- Cardiovascular and cerebrovascular: such as arrhythmia and strokes
- Metabolic: such as hypertension, hyperthyroidism, and hypothyroidism
- Neurological and psychiatric: such as anxiety, depression, and psychosis.
- Gastrointestinal and urinary: such as gastroesophageal reflux disease and ulcer
- Respiratory: including chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and sinusitis.
What causes asthma?
Although science has made huge progress in the diagnosis and treatment of the symptoms of asthma, the exact causes of the disease are still unknown.
Researchers believe that the actual culprit of the disease is a combination of complex and not completely understood interactions between environmental and hereditary factors.
Genetics seem to be responsible for the onset of the disease in early childhood (up to the age of 12) whereas the environment seems to influence the genesis of the disease from the age of 12 and above.
Recent research has also linked poverty to asthma prevalence.
This can be explained by the fact that people living in underdeveloped countries are exposed to pollutants, environmental irritants, food packed with preservatives and pesticides and bad hygiene conditions. Moreover, low or no income at all make them are financially unable to obtain proper medical care and treatment.
(The rich and famous asthma sufferers mentioned at the beginning of the article do not support the poverty theory but the following map of the global prevalence of the disease does)
Traditional asthma treatments
Asthma is a non-curable disease.
Its attacks are uncomfortable, debilitating and potentially fatal.
To avoid them you should eliminate all the triggers that cause them.
Easier to say than to do, I know. To do so you should be living in a glass bubble.
Life and our “habitat” are unpredictable and the occurrence of triggers cannot be controlled or eliminated.
Asthma sufferers are equipped with two types of medications: one used for long-term treatment and the other for rapid alleviation of the symptoms.
Bronchodilators offer fast relief removing excess mucus and widening the bronchi. Corticosteroids are used for long-term treatment of the condition.
Yet, alongside treatment, corticosteroids bring their adverse side effects. Mouth infections, a vulnerable immune system, a rise in blood sugar levels which can lead to diabetes are some of them.
Furthermore, 5% to 18% of patients treated with corticosteroids develop psychological issues such as depression. Asthma-related comorbidities are associated with oral corticosteroids (which are common in severe asthma) side effects.
Unfortunately, in cases of severe asthma, medications seem ineffective to control the symptoms of the disease and when they do, they do it partially.
I hope your anxiety levels haven’t risen after all this. I wouldn’t like to cause you an anxiety-induced asthma attack.
Relax. Breathe in. Breathe out.
I have good news!
Science is aware of the side effects of steroids and the ineffectiveness of medications in severe asthma conditions. Researchers have been investigating the issue trying to develop safer and more effective treatments.
What have they discovered?
CBD to treat asthma: what does science say?
If we were in class and after all these articles-lessons, it would be time for a simple test:
What is the word that automatically comes -or should come- into your mind when you hear or read about inflammation, anxiety, homeostasis or Endocannabinoid System?
Come on, don’t be shy!
I am sure you know it!
Well, the correct answer is cannabidiol (if you have thought CBD you got it right. CBD is cannabidiol)
Scientific evidence regarding my favorite cannabinoid brings hope among asthma sufferers for safer and more effective treatment of their condition.
Trust me, I know that this is the part of my article that you will avoid deliberately 🙂
Scientific facts are difficult to understand and boring to most of you-me included.
Yet, I consider their presence in every-single-article-of-mine, simply obligatory. (I wish they were irresistible! ;-))
Scientific reports stand behind cannabidiol backing it up and demonstrating its potential as an alternative asthma treatment
Off we go!
A 2008 study at the University of Florence, Italy assessed the role of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) in limiting asthmatic symptoms.
The researchers found out that both receptors were involved in protecting the lungs and concluded that
“targeting cannabinoid receptors could be a novel preventative therapeutic strategy in asthmatic patients”Giannini L, Nistri S, Mastroianni R, Cinci L, Vannacci A, Mariottini C, Passani MB, Mannaioni PF, Bani D, Masini E.
The University of Florence in 2012 provided us with fresher findings regarding the role of the endocannabinoid system in asthma
The examination revealed that the activation of CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors on bronchial smooth muscle cells and nerve endings worked like a bronchodilator, opening the airways and permitting unrestricted breathing.
The study also suggested that preventing the breakdown of endocannabinoids like anandamide can reduce pain caused by inflammation.
CBD is closely related to the endocannabinoid system helping it to promote equilibrium in the body, lessening pain and suppressing inflammation. Consequently, it has the potential to be a bronchodilator and an effective analgesic.
A 2015 study conducted by collaborating universities in Brazil suggests that cannabidiol might be a potential treatment for asthma.
The researchers tested the effectiveness of cannabidiol on asthmatic rats by measuring cytokines levels which are also found in human asthma patients.
You are wondering what cytokines are?
“Cytokines are extracellular signaling proteins which play an essential role in the coordination and persistence of the inflammatory process in the chronic inflammation of the airways in asthma”K F Chung, P J Barnes
The study found out that CBD significantly decreased the levels of cytokines (with the exception of one) resulting in a notable reduction of inflammation.
But the future seems promising for asthma sufferers.
The Grandfather of Cannabis Research Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and Dr. Francesca Levi-Schaffer, an asthma expert, have been funded by CIITECH, a biotech company to investigate cannabidiol’s potential as a treatment for asthma.
CIITECH are not only optimistic about the outcome. They are convinced that the results of the study will be positive. The article “We’re going to prove cannabis can treat asthma ” published on their website speaks for itself!
I am more than excited to know that Dr. Raphael Mechoulam is involved in the study. His contribution to cannabis research and the onset of the cannabis “revolution” is of extreme importance.
(I strongly recommend that you watch the documentary dedicated to Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and his work. You can find it posted on my Facebook page. You will fall in love with him! I did!)
How does CBD work with asthma symptoms?
I consider cannabidiol a brilliant general! It surrounds the enemy and combats on multiple fronts.
This strategy is implemented on asthma symptoms.
Let’s study how CBD behaves on the asthma battlefield.
CBD has bronchodilating properties
Researching the scientific literature I found out that THC has the ability to expand the airways and to inhibit bronchoconstriction.
Ok, but THC induces a “high”. CBD doesn’t.
Is it possible that CBD doesn’t help at all?
No, it isn’t possible.
THC directly inhibits bronchoconstriction. CBD does it indirectly.
You are wondering how?
By using an ally! (now you understand why I consider it an excellent general)
Preclinical studies have demonstrated that anandamide, the most important endocannabinoid, restrains allergic airway obstruction and inflammation.
According to a 2011 study, during an asthma attack, anandamide levels increase in the bronchi. The researchers discovered that anandamide concentrations correlate with the severity of the bronchi obstruction: the higher the anandamide levels the lower the severity of the obstruction.
One of the central and most crucial roles of CBD is its interactions with the ECS to suppress the enzyme FAAH (or ‘fatty acid amide hydroxylase’) and to prevent the breakdown of anandamide prolonging its presence in your system and thus its action.
CBD has anti-inflammatory properties
Asthma means chronic inflammation which is persistent in your bronchial tubes even on a normal day. When the disorder attacks you, inflammation increases causing bronchoconstriction and breathing difficulties.
Scientific research has discovered that cannabidiol possesses potent immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory properties. (this is the reason why it has been patented by the US government)
The ability of CBD to treat inflammation makes it a potential treatment of asthma symptoms.
CBD has antispasmodic properties
Bronchospasms are the key sign of asthmatic complications.
According to a 2006 study, CBD has the ability to relax muscles, to reduce muscle spasms and thus mitigate muscle spasticity.
How does it do it? By enhancing the anandamide levels in your system and helping it stimulate the CB1 receptors and produce its antispasmodic effects
CBD has analgesic properties
Pain isn’t a symptom of asthma. But for the majority of asthma patients, it’s a reality.
There are few pain receptors in the lungs, so they don’t typically process any pain. When experiencing an asthma attack, though, patients complain about chest discomfort that is caused by muscle contractions.
By mitigating muscle spasms and lessening the pressure in your lungs, CBD relieves you from pain.
CBD reduces mucus production
Excessive mucus production is responsible for the obstruction of your bronchial tubes.
Cytokines (especially the IL-13 cytokine) cause mucus hypersecretion.
The Brazilian study, mentioned above, demonstrated that the IL-13 cytokine levels were significantly reduced by CBD administration.
CBD has anxiolytic properties.
Have you ever wondered: is it asthma or is it anxiety?
It’s logical. Asthma and anxiety attacks have similar symptoms.
Moreover, they are related to each other forming a vicious circle: realizing that a new asthma attack is about to occur can lead to an escalation of your anxiety levels. On the other hand, anxiety and stress can trigger an asthma attack.
Ok, you cannot get rid of asthma; you can certainly eliminate stress and anxiety and break the circle!
As an anxiety sufferer, I can assure you that CBD does wonders in treating stress and anxiety.
My personal experience with CBD for anxiety alongside scientific evidence regarding cannabidiol’s effects on anxiety disorders and practical advice on how to use the cannabinoid can be found on my blog. You are invited to study them!
The interactions issue
CBD oil interacts with corticosteroids because they are both metabolized by the CYP450 Pathway.
I won’t bother you with any juicy details; you can find it in my CBD oil drug interactions article.
CBD oil users suggest that there should be a 4 hours “distance” between CBD oil and medication intake.
I can’t tell if it’s valid or not. I am not a doctor and I don’t pretend to be one. Nor are you!
I strongly advise you to consult your trusted physician. He can help you discover safe alternatives for using CBD combined with your medication.
CBD oil may help improve your symptoms and even decrease the dosage of your medications.
Final thoughts on CBD for asthma
Although the research on CBD and asthma is still limited, scientific findings demonstrate that the effects of the cannabinoid on the symptoms of the disease are promising.
It seems that CBD may help asthma patients improve the quality of their lives and make their bronchial tubes happier.
The best administration methods of CBD for asthma seem to be the sublingual method and vaping.
I am a fan of the sublingual method. I haven’t tried vaping yet. I will do it as soon as I verify the safety of vaporizers and vaping products and decide to quit smoking.
I understand that vaping isn’t attractive to non-smokers but it’s a great way to treat asthma symptoms and stop smoking at the same time!
As far as dosage is concerned you should know that with cannabinoids treatment “less is more”.
Start with low servings and adjust slowly until you find your “sweet spot” and the relief you need.
Are you wondering which brand to choose?
When it comes to CBD and health, you should be careful to choose a brand that is reliable, trustworthy and transparent.
Here follows a list of my personal brand choices. Their sourcing, extraction methods, lab tests, clients reviews, and my readers’ personal positive experiences prove their claims regarding the quality of their products.
Ahimbe is a blogger too! He runs a magnificent traveling blog and writes about the love of his life: Africa! You should pay him a visit!
If you have any questions or want to share any personal experience regarding asthma and CBD, please, leave a comment below.
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DISCLAIMER: The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information provided is not meant to cure any disease or disorder. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider for any medical condition.