According to CDC data from 2019, over 25 million people in the US suffer from asthma – about 7.8% of the population. What’s more, the WHO estimated that in 2016 there were over 339 million asthma patients worldwide. With so many people affected by asthma, effective treatments are highly sought after.
While there’s no known cure for asthma, there are many well-established treatments for managing its symptoms. In recent years, some asthma patients have begun to turn to a new, alternative treatment: CBD oil. CBD has several properties that may make it beneficial for asthma patients looking for alternative ways to alleviate their symptoms, without some of the side effects of established medications.
This guide will explain what causes asthma, how CBD may be able to treat symptoms of asthma, how to use CBD for asthma, and what side effects and other considerations to bear in mind when using CBD.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a respiratory condition characterized by inflammation in the bronchial tubes – in plain English, that means it involves constricted airways making it harder to breathe. Asthma is partly caused by abnormal immune responses, meaning the immune system is overly sensitive to allergens and other irritants, constricting airways in response.
Symptoms of asthma
The effects of asthma center around breathing difficulties, which can manifest in a number of different symptoms such as:
- Tightness in the chest
- Chronic coughing
- Poor sleep and waking up feeling un-refreshed
CBD may be able to help relieve a number of these symptoms, as will be discussed below.
Studies on CBD treating asthma
There’s currently no known cure for asthma; however, many medications exist which can help to manage the symptoms. However, some current treatments involve the use of certain types of steroids, which if used over long periods can sometimes result in unwanted side effects. As a result, there has been significant interest in developing alternative treatments.
CBD is one such alternative that has garnered attention in recent years. Treating asthma with CBD is an attractive prospect as it is generally well-tolerated by humans and normally results in few significant side effects; even when unwanted effects do occur, they are usually fairly mild.
There are currently few studies directly examining the effectiveness of asthma, but past research has demonstrated that CBD holds certain properties which may help to treat the symptoms of asthma. In addition, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is currently working on a major study into CBD and asthma in partnership with the biotech firm CIITECH.
Can CBD treat asthma symptoms?
While there are currently few studies directly linking CBD and asthma, studies into its treatment of other conditions have demonstrated that it holds certain properties which could help to treat asthma symptoms.
Reduces inflammation in the throat
As noted above, one of the major effects of asthma is the chronic inflammation of bronchi and bronchioles – the airways delivering oxygen to your lungs. Asthma attacks are the result of this inflammation growing especially severe and restricting airflow even further.
CBD may be able to help in this instance as it is reported to have anti-inflammatory properties – for example, a preclinical study in 2019 showed that CBD decreased airway inflammation and hyper-responsiveness in mice induced with allergic asthma. This means CBD may help to reduce airway inflammation in asthma sufferers in order to alleviate its symptoms.
Relieves chest pain
Chest pain isn’t a primary symptom of asthma, but it can occur during asthma attacks or when other symptoms of asthma are particularly bad. CBD may be able to help here as it is noted as having potential analgesic (pain-relieving) properties thanks to its interactions with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is responsible for regulating various bodily functions, including neurotransmitters associated with pain. CBD can therefore help to manage asthma-related pain by affecting the transmission of these chemicals in the ECS.
Exhibits bactericidal effect
Asthma development has been linked in some cases to certain childhood infections. In particular, the bacteria Streptococcus pneumonia may be responsible for the onset of asthma.
CBD may therefore help to combat asthma through its reported antimicrobial and antibacterial properties – and as it happens, it has been demonstrated to be particularly effective against streptococcus.
Acts as a bronchodilator
Asthma attacks and general asthma symptoms largely stem from the constriction of bronchioles, the airways which deliver oxygen to the lungs. When these constrict, it results in a drastic restriction of oxygen flow, leading to severe coughing and shortness of breath.
Bronchodilation, or the widening of bronchioles, has been linked to the CB1 receptors targeted by CBD and other cannabinoids like THC, meaning CBD may aid bronchodilation by activating these receptors.
However, more research is required to prove this – existing studies into cannabis-related bronchodilation have mainly associated these effects with THC rather than CBD. As a result, asthma patients may only gain these benefits from CBD products which are also rich in THC.
Ordinarily, bronchial tubes are fairly smooth to allow air to flow through them easily. In asthma patients, these smooth muscles can contract and hinder airflow. This is known as bronchial spasming, caused by allergens and irritants, and leads to symptoms like a tight chest and shortness of breath.
CBD has been shown to have antispasmodic effects in other parts of the body, leading to speculation that it may also be able to help reduce bronchial spasms.
Makes it hard for immune cells to attack other cells
Asthma is linked to an overactive immune response to allergens and other stimuli which shouldn’t normally provoke a strong reaction. Some asthma patients are thus treated with medication with immunosuppressive properties – in other words, drugs that inhibit immune responses.
CBD may offer an alternative here, as past studies have shown that it has potential immunosuppressive properties which could help to reduce asthma patients’ overactive immune responses.
Using CBD for treating asthma symptoms
It’s important to note that CBD is largely untested as a clinical treatment for asthma, so it’s best to get professional medical advice before taking it as an asthma treatment. You should also stick to established asthma treatments in the event of an emergency, and seek medical assistance if necessary.
What’s the recommended dose of CBD?
Since research on treating asthma with CBD is currently very limited, there’s no definitive recommended dosage. It’s best to experiment and work out what dosage works best for you by starting with low doses and gradually increasing them until you’re happy with the results.
A common baseline for those starting to experiment with CBD is to estimate a starting dose based on your weight – 0.25mg per pound of body weight for a standard starting dose, or 0.5 mg per pound for a stronger starting dose.
Potential side effects of CBD
While CBD is generally well tolerated by humans, it can still have some side effects. These are usually fairly mild, however.
CBD doesn’t tend to make you sleepy in and of itself; however, it can lead to feelings of calm and relaxation which can easily lead to drowsiness if you’re already tired or if other medication you’re on can induce sleepiness.
CBD may sometimes cause issues within your digestive system, especially when ingested as an edible. If your digestive system doesn’t handle CBD well, it can lead to side effects like vomiting or diarrhea.
Your saliva glands are managed by the same parts of the ECS that CBD interacts with. As a result, CBD may inhibit saliva production, leading to a dry mouth.
Similar to gastrointestinal issues, CBD may cause nausea in some users depending on how they ingest it.
Legal issues and regulations
In the USA, hemp-based CBD products have been legal since the introduction of the 2018 Farm Bill which made them legal across every state. However, many states still ban marijuana-based products due to their high THC content. It’s a similar story in many other countries – for example, the UK allows the sale of hemp-based products as long as they have 0% THC content.
It’s important to note that CBD products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, meaning the contents of different products can differ widely. Always check the label to see what else is in your CBD products.
Other treatment options for asthma
As well as CBD, there are many established medications for the treatment of asthma, normally administered using an inhaler.
These are anti-inflammatory steroids that reduce swelling in the airways and help them to widen.
Epinephrine helps to stimulate bronchodilation by relaxing the surrounding muscles, increasing airflow.
Adrenergic receptor agonists (salbutamol)
These medications are an alternative to epinephrine which interacts with the same receptors to stimulate similar bronchodilation. A common example is salbutamol.
Anticholinergic medications (ipratropium bromide)
These drugs block the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in bronchoconstriction, inflammation, and mucus secretion. Anticholinergics like ipratropium bromide thus help to reduce these asthma symptoms.
Leukotriene receptor agonists
Examples of these include montelukast and zafirlukast – they work by interacting with leukotriene receptors, which are responsible for regulating immune responses.
Mast cell stabilisers
These are used to prevent allergic responses by inhibiting the release of histamine, a key component in immune responses. This helps to calm the overactive immune responses responsible for many asthma symptoms.
While CBD does have potential as an alternative asthma treatment, it remains largely untested in clinical trials. With that in mind, you should consider the following:
- Before using CBD to treat your asthma, make sure you seek professional medical advice for guidance on whether it’s suitable for you.
- In the event of an emergency, always seek medical attention and don’t rely solely on CBD – it’s more suited to general relief than to stop an asthma attack.
- Check the product label for any allergens which may make asthma worse, and build up your dose gradually to avoid side effects.
- CBD should be used alongside other forms of treatment, including prescribed medication and a healthy diet/lifestyle.
- If you’re thinking of treating an asthmatic child with CBD, consult a pediatrician beforehand, and stick to CBD isolates to avoid any additives unsuitable for children.
- Smoking and vaping CBD may lead to further irritation in the lungs – stick to oral or topical products.
Final verdict: should you use CBD for asthma?
While CBD hasn’t yet been fully tested as a treatment for asthma, other studies have shown that it possesses properties that might help to ease asthmatic symptoms. The best way to find out if it could help to treat your asthma symptoms is to try it out yourself – just make sure you check with your doctor first and start by experimenting with smaller doses.