Emphysema and Medical Cannabis

Sarah Walker

by Sarah Walker

March 11, 2020 12:52 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 2 Minutes
Medically reviewed by Dr. Abraham Benavides Fact checked by Kymberly Drapcho


There are two main types of chronic pulmonary obstruction disease (COPD): emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema sets in when lung air sacs no longer inflate and deflate properly, eventually causing tissue damage that minimizes blood oxygen flow. The damage to the air sacs makes breathing short, causing respiratory distress.

According to the National Lung Association, more than three million Americans suffer from emphysema, which develops over time, making it one of the most avoidable respiratory diseases. While smoking medical cannabis is not suggested for those with respiratory illness, consuming it with edibles or by way of vapor helps alleviate symptoms for those who suffer from COPD, reports the Lung Institute, specifically adding the anti-inflammatory and mucus reducing properties of certain cannabinoids assist in breathing better.

Emphysema Causes & Symptoms

The leading causes and risks of emphysema are smoking, long-term exposure to lung irritants, genetics, and age, all of which leave sufferers with uncomfortable symptoms. Emphysema sufferers experience constant coughing, which causes heavy mucus. They also experience shortness of breath and wheezing, accompanied by chest tightness.  

MedlinePlus details several treatments for emphysema, first noting lifestyle change. Not smoking and limiting exposure to lung irritants are the first two ways to keep emphysema at bay. Medications, oxygen therapy, and pulmonary rehabilitation, which includes breathing exercises, nutrition counseling, and education, also treat the condition.  

The Impact of Cannabinoids on Emphysema

As research continues on medical cannabis treatment for COPD, more ways to administer the medicine are being developed. In 2016, Cannabis Science announced releasing inhalation medication for COPD sufferers. “Studies have shown CBD/THC to be effective as a bronchial dilator and in many cases being better that Albuterol or Ipratropium,” according to the Cannabis Science, citing more than a dozen studies verifying the claim.

The report based on a British Journal of Pharmacology says that “using samples of human lung tissue, French researchers found that THC could block muscle contractions caused by a signaling molecule called acetylcholine.” Additionally, a 1973 New England Journal of Medicine states, “airways widen in both healthy and asthmatic individuals after smoking marijuana.

Administering medical cannabis with edibles or by vaporizing has helped COPD sufferers, further reports the Lung Institute. Other ways of delivering medical cannabis without smoking include using tinctures or cannabis-infused drinks. More research and study for medical cannabis and emphysema sufferers will undoubtedly continue, giving new hope to the millions who suffer from respiratory illness. 

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