Expert Answers: Medical Marijuana for COPD?

Expert Answers: Medical Marijuana for COPD?

Several people in our COPD.net Facebook community have asked about the use of medical marijuana in regards to COPD treatment. So, we asked our expert respiratory therapists for their thoughts on the topic! Check out what they had to say in response to the following question:

Medical marijuana: is this helpful for treating/managing COPD? Are there non-smoking options?

Response from John
Believe it or not, inhaling the smoke of dried and crushed Cannaibis leaves was once a viable treatment option for anyone with trouble breathing. Not only is it a mild bronchodilator (opens up the airways), it also eases the mind to take the edge off the feeling of dyspnea (air hunger). At the same time, however, marijuana smoke has been proven to both cause COPD and lung cancer, just like tobacco smoke. Other studies suggest one marijuana cigarette is 4­10 times more potent than one tobacco cigarette, so the side effects can be far worse. While inhaling marijuana smoke may have worked nicely prior to the 1950s, today there are treatment options that work far better and are much safer. So I would not recommend medical marijuana for the treatment of COPD.

Response from Leon
The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is a controversial topic. Our concern (here) is whether it can treat lung disease such as COPD.

According to the American Lung Association, with 33 known cancer-causing chemicals, marijuana smoke has just as much potential to cause cancer as tobacco smoke. When someone smokes marijuana, he or she is placing four times more tar into their lungs than with tobacco cigarettes. Marijuana cigarettes are not filtered, and the smoker generally inhales more deeply.

Studies have focused on whether marijuana smoking harms the lungs in a similar manner to that of cigarette smoking. Tobacco smoke is a known cause of COPD, and many of the same components are present in marijuana smoke. However, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the results of a 20-year study appeared, which shed some light. In 5,115 test subjects, researchers discovered that lung function substantially decreased in those individuals who smoked cigarettes. However, in the participants who only smoked marijuana, pulmonary function improved rather than diminished. It is important to view the results in the proper context. Only those who smoked marijuana on a light basis–one or two joints a month–were not adversely affected. Habitual marijuana smokers who smoked upwards of 25 times a month for years on end were found to have diminished lung function.

Alternatively, there is a more recent study published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society. This group of researchers found that regular marijuana use caused microscopic injury to the lungs to the degree that there was an increase in chronic bronchitis. And yet they concluded that given all the evidence obtained by this study, there was a far lower risk to the lungs with regular marijuana use as compared to smoking tobacco.
The jury is still out as to whether marijuana can help lung disease. On a personal level, I would not recommend it as there does not seem to be sufficient evidence supporting positive results for people with COPD. The inhalation of any type of irritant (e.g. smoke) does not have a beneficial effect for patients with COPD.

Response from Lyn
Although I don’t personally know any COPD patients that have tried medical marijuana, there is a school of thought that supports its use among those with COPD. It may be helpful from these aspects:

  1. It’s known to be an anti-inflammatory.
  2. It’s also known to be an expectorant.

Other properties, such as those that support pain relief and treat insomnia may also prove helpful to a person with COPD. I would recommend speaking to your healthcare provider about the possible benefits and complications and then weigh the pros and cons. Any treatment chosen should be under the supervision of a trained, healthcare provider.

How about you? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Comments

View Comments (10)
  • 1coolbreeze
    2 years ago

    As we move forward and collect more authentic data from COPD patients, there is a greater hope that cannabis, when used in a safe method to protect the lungs from further injury, will become a respected treatment by society on the whole. My own primary care physician is an advocate of it’s proper use. He continuously works with me so that we can both effectively try and make the progression of this terrible disease at least a bit more tolerable…or at least make it’s ever present existence in my day to day life less about who I am as a human being. Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    You’re always welcome to articulate your experiences here, 1coolbreeze. We’re glad to have you as part of our online community and appreciate all your comments. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • Jenn Patel
    2 years ago

    Hi DaveP – it’s important to note that treatments can work differently for different people. We encourage anyone trying something new to speak with their health care team when doing so. Thanks for your input! Best, Jenn (COPD.net Team)

  • DaveP
    2 years ago

    I hope others find this interesting, and I know there are SOME FEW data in studies that seemingly contradict Dr Donald Tashkin’s research, but he is from UCLA – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJmQ16cGBHU – and a Federal researcher with the Geffen School of Medicine! … my experience surely agrees with the fact that Cannabis does not provoke or cause COPD! … it can only help!

  • L Fetters
    2 years ago

    This talks of Marijuana use by smoking it. Do you have any results of using CBD oil which is taken as a pill not smoked? It comes from marijuana plant but does not contain TCH which makes you “high” and still has many benefits. My nephew was cured of lung cancer using this in a study done at U of Oregon.

  • l3wo26
    3 years ago

    I was hoping for a review about other pathways besides smoking! Please address THC oil taken as edibles, vapors or suppositories if possible and TIA.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi DaveP – based on your comment (at 3:15pm today), I would urge you to keep in mind what Jenn said above, and I quote: “it’s important to note that treatments can work differently for different people. We encourage anyone trying something new to speak with their health care team when doing so. Thanks for your input! Best, Jenn (COPD.net Team)”

    This is a very important concept for all our members to keep in mind. Not all treatments or therapies work the same for everyone. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • DaveP
    2 years ago

    l3wo26 – I was able to toss out my two Rx inhalers(Spiriva & Advair) on July 1st, 2012 and I have been totally Pharmaceutical-free since, due to my uses of MedCanna. I do NOT smoke, but I DO VAPORIZE! I also ingest 200-300 ml daily of Cannabinoid essential oil extracted from dry Cannabis flower tops! I also infuse coconut oil with Cannabis and use this as butter at breakfast – my exemption to use MedCanna permits me to use my own high-ratio CBD plants! … at the least, you could invest in a vaporizer for less than $2 hundred. … and it cannot harm in any way!

  • Jenn Patel
    3 years ago

    Hello l3wo26 –

    Thank you so much for your feedback!

    In addition to Leon’s comment, I wanted to let you know that – thanks to your input and the input of other community members – we are currently working on an article with research about other pathways besides smoking. We look forward to sharing this with the community in the near future.

    Thanks so much for being an active part of this wonderful community! We appreciate you and your feedback!

    Best,

    Jenn (Community Manager, COPD.net)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Welcome 13wo26. Your interest in other pathways besides smoking is understood as I’m guessing that any form of medical marijuana that helps to relieve COPD symptoms may be desirable for you.
    A complete review is beyond my personal experience with patients with COPD. Certainly the advice provided in the experts’ responses can be utilized for your needs; specifically, this issue should be discussed with your physician and/or health care provider. Good luck to you and please keep us posted with information you may be given.
    Regards, Leon (site moderator)

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