Does Cannabis Cause Bronchitis? [Revealing the Truth]
Most people know that smoking tobacco causes lung problems like bronchitis, but what about cannabis?
The plant is becoming more popular, both for medicinal and recreational use. And the most common way of consuming it is by smoking, either in a joint, spliff, pipe, or bong. This poses a dilemma for those wishing to improve their health, as smoking can adversely affect the lungs.
However, there is plenty of confusion surrounding the question of whether cannabis smoke is as harmful as tobacco. Some research has even suggested moderate marijuana use could have positive effects on specific aspects of lung function.
So, does cannabis cause bronchitis, or is this just a myth? Let’s take a look at the evidence.
What Is Bronchitis?
The term ‘bronchitis’ simply means inflammation of the bronchi. These structures are cartilage tubes that lead from the trachea (airway) to the lungs.
It is possible to describe bronchitis as acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis is a common problem and often occurs due to a viral or bacterial infection. It usually resolves quickly once the infection itself has cleared.
Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, usually occurs due to exposure to irritating substances over time. These include air pollution, chemical fumes, and of course, smoke. In fact, smoking is the most significant cause of chronic bronchitis. Around 75% of people with the condition are either smokers or ex-smokers.
When smoke repeatedly irritates the bronchi, they become inflamed and begin to produce excess mucus. This leads to a variety of respiratory symptoms, including:
- A productive cough
- A whistling sound when breathing
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
One might assume that smoking cannabis is just as likely to cause bronchitis as smoking tobacco. However, the situation is not straightforward. Indeed, research has suggested that smoking marijuana could have some very unexpected effects on lung function.
How Does Cannabis Affect Lung Function?
Smoking any substance, tobacco, cannabis, or otherwise, is going to harm the lungs. However, research published in JAMA in 2012 indicates that marijuana could affect lung function in an unpredictable way.
The study included data from 5016 men and women across the United States. The researchers asked participants about their smoking habits, including both cigarettes and marijuana.
They also measured the participants’ forced expiratory volume (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC). Both measures involve breathing in as fully as possible, then forcibly exhaling into a device that records the volume of air.
FEV1 indicates how much air a person breathes out within the first second of expiration. Meanwhile, FVC indicates the total capacity of the lungs. Both FEV1 and FVC scores can help in the diagnosis of lung problems like bronchitis.
Unsurprisingly, the cigarette smokers had lower scores on both FEV1 and FVC. However, for cannabis smokers, the opposite was true.
The results showed current and ex-cannabis smokers had increased FVC scores, while ex-smokers also had increased FEV1 scores.
These results remained true up to seven ‘joint years,’ with 365 joints being equal to one joint year. At this point, FEV1 scores began to level out, and by ten joint years, they began to decrease. The most significant decreases were in heavy smokers (more than 20 episodes per month).
There are several possible explanations for these findings. Firstly, THC acts as a bronchodilator, relaxing the airways. It is also anti-inflammatory.
Secondly, marijuana smokers tend to inhale more deeply than tobacco smokers and hold the smoke in for longer. By doing this, they could be unintentionally stretching their lungs and increasing their vital capacity.
The authors conclude by suggesting that occasional marijuana use “would not have significant adverse consequences on pulmonary function.”
Does Smoking Cannabis Cause Bronchitis?
Although the results of the 2012 research are fascinating, they do not answer the question, ‘does cannabis cause bronchitis?’
Unfortunately, despite cannabis enhancing some aspects of lung function, it can still cause bronchitis. However, once again, the situation is not as straightforward as it seems.
A 2016 review for NDJ Primary Care Respiratory Medicine explains why. It states in its opening paragraph that both tobacco and cannabis cause chronic bronchitis. However, it then goes on to describe some of the difficulties in researching the subject.
For example, many research studies use ‘joint years’ as a way to measure the amount of cannabis that a person smokes. However, it does not consider differences in the size of joints and whether a filter is used or not. It also fails to take into account different strains with different cannabinoid and terpene contents.
Another issue is that many cannabis smokers also smoke tobacco, either together with their weed or separately. All these factors make it challenging to assess the exact impacts of smoking marijuana on lung health.
However, the bottom line is that smoking anything, cannabis included, has the potential to cause bronchitis. Chronic users may experience coughing (especially in the morning), excessive mucus production, and wheezing.
It may also contribute to various other lung problems, including bullous lung disease and pneumothorax. The former is a condition in which air pockets form inside the lungs. The latter is the medical term for a collapsed lung.
The good news is that ten years after quitting, the risk of these symptoms returns to the same levels as non-smokers.
So, how about vaping marijuana? Does it have similar effects?
Vaping Cannabis and Bronchitis
When vaping first hit the mainstream, many people saw it as a safer alternative to smoking cannabis. However, a recent rise in the number of people suffering from vape-related lung problems has caused some serious doubts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that much more research is necessary to understand the effects of vaping. It suggests that although it may be a safer alternative to smoking, it is not without risk.
Therefore, people who have never smoked or used vape products before should not start. But what are the other options for using cannabis without smoking?
Fortunately, there are many ways to use marijuana without jeopardizing your lung health.
Safer Alternatives to Smoking Cannabis
For years, the only options for non-smoking pot lovers were cannabis-infused edibles. These products remain popular today and provide an enjoyable way to consume cannabis. However, dosing edibles can be tricky, and it is easy to go overboard. This fact alone puts many people off using them.
Luckily, nowadays, there are plenty of other options too. Dabbing is becoming more popular and involves using highly concentrated cannabis products such as wax or shatter on a dab rig. While this method still involves inhalation, the products involved are much purer than cannabis flower. Therefore, the risk of lung irritation may be lower.
Other options include oils, tinctures, capsules, topical creams, and patches, to name a few. As the industry advances, more and more novel ways to use cannabis are emerging. This is great news for anyone who wants to enjoy marijuana without risking bronchitis or other lung problems.
Read about the pros and cons of these methods in our article: How to Use Cannabis… Without Smoking It
Does Cannabis Cause Bronchitis? Final Thoughts
Many people consider smoking cannabis to be safer than smoking tobacco. Furthermore, research has suggested that moderate use does not negatively impact overall lung function.
However, smoking any substance, cannabis included, can increase the risk of developing bronchitis and other severe lung disorders.
Therefore, it is worth investigating the different options available. There is more choice than ever for cannabis consumers who wish to avoid smoking. Consequently, it should be easy to find something to satisfy every need.
So, why not try an alternative consumption method next time you visit the dispensary? You will immediately see how easy it is to enjoy marijuana without causing bronchitis and lung disease.
One of the main issues with smoking cannabis is that it can irritate the lungs. But does it cause bronchitis or is this a myth? We investigate.
COPD: Can CBD Help?
If you have COPD, you may have been asked a surprising suggestion recently: Have you considered CBD? CBD (short for cannabidiol) is a chemical found in marijuana and other forms of the cannabis plant that’s now available in a wide variety of products, including tincture drops, capsules, candy, cookies, and even coffee. CBD is also sold in liquids that are warmed and inhaled with a special device (known as “vaping”).
Research shows that CBD appears to have various medicinal properties. Now some proponents are touting CBD’s potential to ease symptoms of COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a condition that affects your airways, making it hard to breathe normally. Can CBD help you catch your breath? As products laced with this cannabis extract pop up in convenience stores and pharmacies in many states (though a few prohibit or place tight restrictions on sales of CBD), you might be tempted to give one a try. Here’s what you should know before you buy.
What Is CBD?
There are about 540 chemicals in cannabis, but the two you may have heard of are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD, which are known as cannabinoids. THC is the stuff in pot that makes you feel “high.” CBD doesn’t have that effect and is generally considered safe.
You can also find CBD in hemp, a related cannabis plant that has very little THC. While you can buy marijuana legally in many states, the federal government still considers it an illicit drug. But CBD derived from hemp can be sold legally in most of the United States, with some exceptions. (Hemp seed oil is also available. It contains some CBD but little THC.)
The FDA has approved a prescription drug made with CBD, Epidiolex, to treat some forms of epilepsy and a condition called tuberous sclerosis complex, which causes growth of benign (noncancerous) tumors. But many people use CBD to self-treat a variety of conditions, including pain, insomnia, anxiety, and others. There isn’t much research on whether CBD helps with these health problems, though some evidence is beginning to build. For example, a handful of early studies in both animals and humans suggests that CBD could help ease anxiety, though more research is needed.
Does CBD Work for COPD?
Doctors don’t know if CBD can relieve symptoms of COPD or any other form of lung disease. “There’s not any research that says CBD is effective for COPD,” says April Hatch, a nurse at Cannabis Care Team in Kansas City, MO. She works with patients interested in cannabis-based therapies.
The belief that CBD might ease COPD symptoms may have sprung from research done decades ago, which showed that smoking pot actually relaxed the airways and improved breathing in healthy people and people with asthma. But that benefit was short-lived, and routine pot smoking is known to promote breathing problems, like coughing and wheezing.
Some lab studies have offered early signs that CBD could alter certain biological changes that cause COPD. With COPD. Your lungs become highly inflamed. The inflammation doesn’t go away and leads to irreversible blockages in your airways. CBD does seem to fight inflammation, at least in studies on animals. And a 2020 study in the Journal of Cannabis Research found that cannabis oil (which contained CBD and THC) appeared to act as an anti-inflammatory when exposed to human lung cells in a laboratory.
“The problem with these kinds of studies is that they only offer hints” that CBD might help relieve breathing problems, says pulmonologist Andrew Martin, MD, chair of pulmonary medicine at Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills, NJ. Unfortunately, he says, some experimental medicines that look promising in the lab end up having no effect when given to real people.
And that’s just what seems to have happened when scientists have tested whether CBD improves breathing in people with and without COPD. In a 1984 study, large doses of CBD given to healthy men failed to relax and widen their airways. In a very small 2011 study that included just four people with COPD, treatment with a drug called Sativex, which has THC and CBD, didn’t improve scores on a test that measures breathing. Interestingly, though, after treatment with the medication, they reported being less out of breath.
In another small study from 2018, researchers had people with advanced COPD inhale vaporized cannabis to see if it gave them more lung power when pedaling exercise cycles. It didn’t help, though in fairness the strain of pot used in the study contained only a very small amount of CBD. Once again, the people who inhaled cannabis said they felt less anxious, though that came at a cost, since they also felt high.
If You Decide to Try CBD
If you’re still thinking of giving CBD a try for your COPD symptoms or any other reason, talk to your doctor first. You might be surprised by their response.
“I have no objections to the use of cannabinoids,” says Martin, who doesn’t think they’ll help, but probably won’t hurt — if you use the right products. “As a lung physician, I cannot recommend that you smoke” cannabis to get your CBD, he says. That includes inhaling cannabis or CBD oil with a vaping device, which he worries could be harmful to the lungs.
“If taking CBD makes you feel better and decreases your anxiety,” he says, “use the edible version.”
Hatch suggests you only buy CBD products from a retailer that can provide a document known as a certificate of analysis. This shows the product has been tested in a lab, is free of contaminants, and contains the amount of CBD listed on the label.
Chances are, your local convenience store can’t or won’t provide those documents, so if possible purchase CBD at a medical marijuana dispensary, Hatch says. She suggests starting with 10 milligrams a day, then slowly increasing the dose. And if you don’t notice any benefit after a few weeks, don’t waste your money.
Lung Health Institute: “Can CBD Cure My Lung Disease?”
Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research: “A Cross-Sectional Study of Cannabidiol Users,” “An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies.”
CDC: “What is COPD?”
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Cannabis (Marijuana) and Cannabinoids: What You Need To Know.”
ProCon.org: “States with Legal Cannabidiol (CBD).”
Iranian Journal of Psychiatry: “Chemistry, Metabolism, and Toxicology of Cannabis: Clinical Implications.”
Biomolecules: “Cannabidiol: A Potential New Alternative for the Treatment of Anxiety, Depression, and Psychotic Disorders.”
National Conference of State Legislatures: “State Medical Marijuana Laws.”
FDA: “FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD).”
Congressional Research Service: “Defining Hemp: A Fact Sheet.”
April Hatch, RN, Cannabis Care Team, Kansas City, MO.
Annals of American Thoracic Society: “Effect of Vaporized Cannabis on Exertional Breathlessness and
Exercise Endurance in Advanced Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.”
Archives of Internal Medicine: “Effects of Marijuana Smoking on Pulmonary Function and Respiratory Complications: A Systematic Review.”
Clinical And Translational Medicine: “Inflammation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and its role in cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.”
Cell Death & Disease: “Cannabidiol (CBD): a killer for inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis synovial fibroblasts.”
Journal of Cannabis Research: “ Effects of cannabis oil extract on immune response gene expression in human small airway epithelial cells (HSAEpC): implications for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).”
Andrew Martin, MD, chair of pulmonary medicine, Deborah Heart and Lung Center, Browns Mills, NJ.
Chronic Respiratory Disease: “Cannabinoid effects on ventilation and breathlessness: A pilot study of efficacy and safety.”
Americans for Safe Access: “Patient’s Guide to CBD.”
COPD makes it hard to breathe. Can CBD help people with this condition?