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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – Medical Marijuana Research Overview

The following information is presented for educational purposes only. Medical Marijuana Inc. provides this information to provide an understanding of the potential applications of cannabidiol. Links to third party websites do not constitute an endorsement of these organizations by Medical Marijuana Inc. and none should be inferred.

The third leading cause of death in the United States, COPD is a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it difficult to breathe. Research indicates that cannabis can help patients manage the pulmonary diseases by reducing airway inflammation and causing bronchodilation.

Overview of COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive inflammatory lung disease that obstructs airflow to the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe. In the United States, COPD is most commonly associated with the development of emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

When a person has COPD, less air flows in and out of the airways because either they lose their elastic quality or make more mucus than usual, causing clogging. In chronic bronchitis, the walls of the bronchial tubes become thick and inflamed. In emphysema, the walls between the air sacs can be destroyed, reducing airflow.

COPD is caused by long-term exposure to irritating particulate matter or gases. The number one cause of COPD is cigarette smoking, but other irritants like secondhand smoke, air pollution and workplace exposure to dust and smoke can also pose problems. The disease develops slowly and symptoms get worse over time until even the most basic physical activities, like walking or cooking, became too difficult.

The symptoms associated with COPD typically include the coughing up of large amounts of mucus, shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. Symptoms often don’t appear until significant damage to the lungs has already occurred. A major cause of disability, COPD is most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged or older adults.

COPD has been shown to increase the risk of respiratory infections, heart problems, lung cancer, high blood pressure and depression.

There is no cure for COPD and as of now, damage to the airways and lungs are irreversible. However, treatments can help control symptoms and reduce the risk of complications and exacerbations. Bronchodilators are medications that can be used to relax the muscles around the airways. Inhaled steroids help reduce airway inflammation.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on COPD

Studies indicate that cannabis could potentially be therapeutically beneficial for managing acute attacks of airway constriction due to inflammation, thereby acting as a preventative measure for patients with COPD. Cannabis has been shown through numerous studies to have efficacy for reducing inflammation, suggesting it could be effective for helping manage inflamed airways in those with chronic bronchitis5,12,17.

Two of the major cannabinoids found in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) have shown in several studies to have anti-inflammatory benefits through a variety of mechanisms23. THC and CBD interact with the endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) to help the body maintain homeostasis. The activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors has shown to reduce airway inflammation4,8. An animal study concluded that CBD has a potent anti-inflammatory effect and also improves lung function, suggesting it could be a useful therapeutic tool for the treatment of inflammatory lung diseases16. In another study, CBD was shown to have anti-inflammatory effects following acute lung injury9. Studies have also found that terpenes, the aromatic compounds found in cannabis, show anti-inflammatory benefits9.

Some research has also shown that the cannabinoids found in cannabis can have bronchodilatory effects, thereby decreasing resistance in the respiratory airway and increasing airflow to the lungs19. One study found that cannabinoids’ activation of the CB1 receptor inhibits contraction of the smooth muscle surrounding the lungs to dilate the bronchial tubes and further open up the airways9.

It’s important to note that findings in several studies suggest that the smoking of marijuana may increase the prevalence of acute and chronic bronchitis due to irritants entering the lungs20. Heavy smoking of marijuana on its own can cause airway obstruction1,25. These findings suggest that patients with COPD should stick with cannabis products that are delivered through methods other than smoking, such as cannabis oils and edibles.

States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for COPD

While no states have approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of COPD, several states will consider approving medical marijuana for the treatment of other conditions, but require an approval or a recommendation by a physician. These states include: California (any debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been recommended by a physician), Connecticut (other medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer Protection), Massachusetts (other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician), Nevada (other conditions subject to approval), Oregon (other conditions subject to approval), Rhode Island (other conditions subject to approval), and Washington (any “terminal or debilitating condition”).

In Washington D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment.

Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on COPD

References:

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  • February 15, 2017
  • Eve Ripley