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Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening genetic disorder that affects about 33,000 people in the United States. Studies have shown that cannabis can help manage symptoms associated with cystic fibrosis by normalizing the function of the body’s endocannabinoid system.
Overview of Cystic Fibrosis
Cystic fibrosis is a progressive inherited disorder that causes persistent infections in the lungs and severe damage to the digestive system. The defective gene that causes the disorder affects the cells that produce mucus, sweat and digestive juices. Rather than being thin and slippery to serve as an effective lubricant, the mucus becomes thick and sticky, plugging up passageways. The underlying mechanism of cystic fibrosis has been found to be an imbalance of fatty acids.
Cystic fibrosis is typically diagnosed early in life, as screenings for the disorder are performed upon birth in all 50 states. Symptoms of cystic fibrosis vary between persons but can be extremely uncomfortable and inhibiting, often causing patients to suffer from anxiety. Common symptoms include salty-tasting skin, persistent coughing, frequent lung infections, wheezing, shortness of breath, malnutrition, an inability to gain weight, male infertility, and frequent bulky stools. Patients also often suffer from severe aches and pains, and the frequent coughing can cause nausea and vomiting.
Cystic fibrosis can cause further respiratory, digestive, and reproductive system complications. The disorder is one of the leading causes of the airway-damaging condition bronchiectasis, according to Mayo Clinic. Over time, the lung tissue damage caused by cystic fibrosis can lead to respiratory failure. Digestively, cystic fibrosis can cause nutritional deficiencies and diabetes and can obstruct the bile duct and intestines. Cystic fibrosis can also increase the risk of osteoporosis and dehydration.
While there is no cure for cystic fibrosis, various treatment methods can help patients manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. Medications are often used to treat and prevent lung infections, while mucus-thinning drugs can help loosen and remove mucus from the lungs and bronchodilators can help keep airways open. Chest physical therapy is often employed to help loosen mucus, making the mucus easier to cough up. In some cases, surgery to remove nasal polyps to prevent breathing obstruction, oxygen therapy, bowel surgery, an endoscopy, the implantation of a feeding tube or a lung transplant are necessary.
Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Cystic Fibrosis
Research suggests that cannabis offers several therapeutic benefits to patients with cystic fibrosis. The disorder has been found to be associated with an impaired endocannabinoid system, which in turn causes an imbalance of fatty acids. Studies have shown that with cannabis treatments, the body’s endocannabinoid system will normalize, leading to improvements3.
One cannabinoid in particular, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has proven to be beneficial for those with cystic fibrosis. Studies have shown THC to relieve nausea and vomiting and have bronchodilating, anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrheal, and pain-relieving effects5. One animal trial found that treating cystic fibrosis mice with THC during infancy prevented infertility in males2. Another found that regular THC treatments during infancy caused motor activity and anxiety levels to be normal in mice with cystic fibrosis3. Additionally, marijuana treatments have been shown to help combat the mortality caused by a lack of appetite and subsequent malnutrition in cystic fibrosis patients5.
Researchers have gone so far as to suggest cannabinoid treatments for children or young adults with cystic fibrosis to improve food intake and reduce inflammatory exacerbations, thereby helping to improve their health condition6.
States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Cystic Fibrosis
Connecticut is the only state that has specifically approved medical marijuana for cystic fibrosis. Under the law, adults and minors under 18 with cystic fibrosis can be recommended medical marijuana.
Also, several states have approved medical marijuana specifically to treat “chronic pain,” a symptom commonly associated with cystic fibrosis. These states include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia. The states of Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio and Vermont allow medical marijuana to treat “severe pain.” The states of Arkansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington and West Virginia have approved cannabis for the treatment of “intractable pain.”
Additionally, many states have approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of nausea. These states include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
In Washington D.C., any condition recommended by DC-licensed physician can be approved for medical marijuana. California allows medical marijuana for “any debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been ‘deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician.’”
Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Cystic Fibrosis
- About Cystic Fibrosis. (n.d.). Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.cff.org/What-is-CF/About-Cystic-Fibrosis/.
- Bregman, T., and Fride, E. (2011, June 17). Behavioral alterations in cystic fibrosis mice are prevented by cannabinoid treatment in infancy. Journal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology, 22(1-2), 33-6. doi: 10.1515/jbcpp.2011.005. Retrieved from https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/jbcpp.2011.22.issue-1-2/jbcpp.2011.005/jbcpp.2011.005.xml.
- Bregman, T., and Fride, E. (2011, June 17). Treatment with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) prevents infertility in male cystic fibrosis mice. Journal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacy, 22(1-2), 29-32. doi: 10.1515/jbcpp.2011.004. Retrieved from https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/jbcpp.2011.22.issue-1-2/jbcpp.2011.004/jbcpp.2011.004.xml.
- Cystic fibrosis. (2016, October 13). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cystic-fibrosis/basics/definition/con-20013731.
- Fride, E. (2002). Cannabinoids and Cystic Fibrosis: A Novel Approach to Etiology and Therapy. Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics, 2(1), 59-71. Retrieved from https://www.cannabis-med.org/data/pdf/2002-01-2.pdf.
Fride, E. (2004, February-April). The endocannabinoid-CB receptor system: Importance for development and in pediatric disease. Neuro Endocrinology Letters, 25(1-2), 24-30. Retrieved from http://www.i-gap.org/app/dokumente/Endocannabinoid-CB%20Receptor%20System.pdf.