Let’s talk about it.
The use of medical marijuana is a controversial topic. Now medically legal in 23 states and Washington D.C., the subject of medical marijuana will be a continuing issue with each election cycle. Today, Colorado, Washington, and now Oregon allow for the provision of recreational marijuana usage in addition to medical treatment. Although, there are quite a number of conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana, such as cancer, glaucoma and even HIV/AIDS, the real question is: Can marijuana help lung disease?
With your health in mind, the Lung Institute is here to dive deep into the effectiveness of medical marijuana, and how it can affect those with chronic lung disease.
Whether you are short of breath, coughing or consistently wheezing, lung disease can have a dramatic impact on the quality of your life. You might have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary fibrosis or interstitial lung disease, any of which can vary in symptoms and severity. A common link among these lung diseases are their inflammatory natures which promote a constant struggle to breathe easily. And unfortunately, many people with lung disease are told by their physician that treatment options are limited, leaving them looking for alternatives.
According to the American Lung Association, there are 33 known cancer-causing chemicals within marijuana smoke, making marijuana just as harmful to respiratory health as tobacco smoke. As opposed to traditional cigarettes, when someone smokes marijuana, they are actively placing up to four times more tar into their lungs. Contrary to cigarettes, Marijuana ‘joints’ are not filtered, and the method in which they are smoked is vastly different. Marijuana is typically inhaled more deeply with a tendency to hold the smoke in the lungs longer. These variations work to compound the negative effects inherent in smoking.
Although it’s well-established that smoking of any kind can lead to the development of COPD, there seems to be more to the chemicals within marijuana than once considered. In the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers discovered that in participants who only smoked marijuana occasionally (1-2 joints a month), pulmonary function improved rather than diminished. Habitual marijuana smokers on the other hand (smoked 25 a month) were found to have diminished lung function.
So What Does This Mean?
Due to the fact that diseases like COPD are generally inflammatory in nature, anti-inflammatory treatments and medications are often effective. In a recent study, researchers discovered that the active ingredient within marijuana, THC, possesses anti-inflammatory properties that are believed to account for the improvement in pulmonary function amongst marijuana users. However, it remains an irrefutable fact that smoking is known to cause damage to the lungs themselves.
Change the way you consume the drug.
Although researchers have found that water filters (bongs, pipes, etc.) have been shown to involve equivalent amounts of tar without reducing the risks of inhalation, methods of consumption such as low-temperature vaporizers, and ‘edibles’ which can be eaten without combustion can provide the anti-inflammatory benefits of THC without the respiratory risk.
Medical marijuana can serve as a temporary method of treatment, but the inability to avoid the side effects (being ‘high’) and its mixed legality leaves its use as a future form of medication uncertain. Although COPD currently has no cure, new discoveries are being made every day in the field of stem cell research. As the scientific community continues to put their best minds to the task of solving the problems and complications of the human body, the Lung Institute will continue to bring these advancements to the public with the hope of bettering quality of life for those who need it most.