Evidence based

CBD and Asthma: Benefits, How to Use, Dosage, & Side Effects

Asthma is an inflammatory immune condition — something CBD is particularly well-suited for. Learn how to use CBD products for asthma, and what to avoid.

Article By
Justin Cooke , last updated on November 7, 2020

CBD has risen to the forefront of treating numerous inflammatory conditions — leading researchers to begin exploring the benefits this versatile phytocannabinoid may offer asthma patients.

In 2015 it was estimated that 358 million people suffer from asthma around the world [1].

Only 183 million people reported to have diagnosed asthma three decades ago — these figures suggest that asthma is on the rise.

With this debilitating condition becoming more common as the years go on, medical researchers are frantically searching for new effective treatments for the condition.

Here we’ll go over the current research on CBD and its role in asthma. We discuss how to use CBD effectively, and what you can do to maximize the benefits.

  • MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY

    Abraham Benavides, M.D., Medical Doctor

    Updated on November 07, 2020

  • Table of Contents

Summary: Using CBD for Asthma

Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways — leading to difficulty breathing. Depending on the severity, asthma can interfere with the quality of life of those affected. It can even become fatal in severe cases.

Asthma caused by allergies is particularly dangerous because it leads to excessive mucus production in the lungs which further block air from entering the lungs.

CBD is thought to help in four main ways:

  1. Reduces inflammation in the throat
  2. Makes it harder for immune cells to attack the cells
  3. Relaxes tight muscles in the chest
  4. Alleviates common side effects of asthma (such as insomnia or anxiety)

Best CBD Oils For Asthma

Tips for Getting the Most Out of CBD and Cannabis Extract Use for Asthma:

  1. Always consult your doctor before using CBD with asthma
  2. If symptoms of asthma become severe, it’s important not to rely on CBD to alleviate symptoms. Always visit a doctor in the event of an emergency
  3. Start with a very low dose of CBD and build up the dose gradually to make sure you are not allergic to anything in the CBD product
  4. Always use CBD alongside other forms of treatment such as dietary and lifestyle changes
  5. If using CBD with children, always consult with a pediatrician before starting CBD supplementation and use CBD extracts made from isolate only
  6. Use oral CBD only — avoid smoking or vaporizing to get your dose of CBD

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a condition involving inflammation of the airway leading to the lungs — leading to difficulty breathing.

Symptoms of asthma can be anywhere from mild to life-threatening. Asthma can be present all the time or appear in the form of asthma “attacks” sporadically when being exposed to triggers like exercise or allergies.

Allergic asthma is considered an atopic condition — which involves other allergy-related conditions such as dermatitis and food allergies.

Atopic individuals tend to be hyper-reactive to a list of environmental compounds and foods. It’s most common in developed countries — affecting as many as 1 out of every 5 people [4].

There is no cure for asthma. Treatment is aimed at lowering the intensity and frequency of attacks, and identifying and removing triggers.

Asthma Attacks

Asthma attacks are temporary periods of increased symptoms. In most cases, something triggered the attack — such as dust, cigarette smoke, exercise, or food allergies.

During an asthma attack, as the airway becomes inflamed, the amount of air that can fit through the bronchioles is reduced, requiring more effort to give the body the oxygen it needs.

Attacks can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few days.

Symptoms of Asthma

  • Breathlessness
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the Chest
  • Chronic cough
  • Fatigue
  • Waking unrefreshed

Signs of Emergency During an Asthma Attack

  • Symptoms occur rapidly
  • Inability to speak
  • Heavy breathing
  • Extreme shortness of breath
  • Absent chest sounds
  • No relief from an inhaler
  • Blue lips

Although all asthma involves inflammation in the airway, there are a few distinct types of asthma depending on the cause:

What are the Different Types of Asthma?

1. Allergic Asthma

Allergies are caused by an activation of the immune system to particular compounds. We can develop asthma symptoms from the same allergens that give us a runny nose, watery eyes, and itchy skin.

When we’re exposed to these compounds, the immune system identifies the compounds and sounds the alarm. Specialized cells known as mast cells release neurotransmitters like histamine that go on to cause most of the negative side-effects.

Our airway leading down to the lungs is high in these immune cells — their job is to make sure no infectious organisms find their way into the lungs where they can proliferate and make us sick. During an allergic asthma attack, it’s these immune cells that were there to keep us safe that make the condition worse.

Histamine released from mast cells causes the airway to fill up with fluid and close shut.

2. Non-Allergic (Intrinsic) Asthma

Other forms of asthma can happen without the activation of mast cells during an allergic reaction.

Our airway is controlled via the central nervous system. When we’re exercising, for example, the central nervous system makes the airway wider to allow more air into the lungs and then shrinks it up when we don’t need it to preserve heat loss and keep infectious organisms out of the lungs as much as possible.

In some cases of non-allergic asthma, the cause of the condition is mediated through the central nervous system dysfunction that leads to a narrowing of the airway. Medications or exercise can cause this form of asthma.

Causes of Non-Allergic (Intrinsic) Asthma Include:

  • Aspirin-induced asthma
  • Asthma with fixed airflow obstruction
  • Exercise-induced asthma
  • Cough-variant asthma
  • Occupational asthma
  • Nighttime (Nocturnal) asthma
  • Asthma with obesity

Common Asthma Triggers

  • Pet dander
  • Drugs/medications
  • Exercise
  • Cold/flu
  • Sulfites
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Dust
  • Pollen
  • Cold air
  • Airborne allergens
  • Food allergens

Measuring Asthma Severity

Doctors will often measure the severity of asthma symptoms using a 4-step scale.

Step 1: Intermittent Asthma

Asthma symptoms appear less than two days per week and don’t interrupt daily activities. This level usually involves short-lived flare-ups and rarely involves nighttime symptoms.

Step 2: Mild Persistent Asthma

The symptoms occur more than two days per week, but only slightly interfere with normal activities. This level of asthma may or may not involve occasional nighttime flare-ups.

Step 3: Moderate Persistent Asthma

The symptoms occur daily and interfere with daily activities. This level of asthma involves frequent nighttime and daytime flare-ups, and usually require medications to keep symptoms at bay.

Step 4: Severe Persistent Asthma

The symptoms occur throughout the day and may strongly interfere with daily activities. Asthmatics experiencing symptoms at this level often have difficulty with physical activity and frequently suffer from nighttime flare-ups.

Treatment Options for Asthma

  • Corticosteroids
  • Adrenergic receptor agonists (Salbutamol)
  • Anticholinergic medications (ipratropium bromide)
  • Epinephrine
  • Leukotriene receptor antagonists
  • Mast cell stabilizers

Guide to Using CBD for Asthma

There are many different causes for asthma, but the underlying cause of symptoms remains much the same — inflammation and excess mucus production in the airway leading down to the lungs.

Therefore, the treatment is similar for different types of asthma — with one of the primary treatment options being anti-inflammatory compounds. CBD is a particularly strong anti-inflammatory — exerting beneficial effects over multiple different types of inflammation.

There are no clinical studies to date on the effects of CBD on asthmatic patients to confirm how effective CBD is on real-life patients, but there are a lot of studies highlighting the specific inflammatory messengers inhibited by CBD that play a role in regulating asthma attacks (more on this in the next section).

CBD is a promising supplement for reducing the underlying causes of asthma.

It’s important to speak with your doctor before using CBD and avoid smoking or vaporizing cannabis as your source of CBD. Opt for using other forms of CBD instead — such as capsules, oils, tinctures, and edibles.

What Does the Research Say?

In 2015, an animal study was published involving rats who were treated with 5 mg/kg CBD for two days. After the treatment was finished, researchers measured the inflammatory activity in the animals. All inflammatory markers except for IL-10 were substantially reduced — indicating that CBD was able to lower the inflammatory factors driving the symptoms of asthma [3].

Asthma caused by allergic reaction involves an increase in specific immune reactive cells (Th2 cytokines) [5]. Research shows that CBD specifically targets many of the Th2 cytokines including IL-6,  IL-2, TNF-a, IFN-c, IL-6, IL-12, and IL-17 [6, 7].

Inflammatory MessengerRole In Asthma ReactionEffects of CBD
TNF-aHeavily involved with severe asthma reactionsReduces Asthma Reaction
IL-6Stimulates T-cell activityHelps Prevent Asthma Triggers
IL-4Stimulates IgE activityReduces the Severity of Asthma
IL-13Increased mucus productionPrevents Excess Mucus Production

This means that the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD work at several different levels of the inflammatory response. Multi-level treatment approaches such as this are far more effective than treatments focusing on only one aspect of inflammation.

Even conventional treatments use multiple treatment options such as steroidal inhalants (puffers) and oral medications.

How CBD Affects Asthma

  • Inhibits inflammatory response associated with both allergic and non-allergic asthma
  • Resists immune cell migration into the inflamed airway tissue
  • Alleviates symptoms of correlated medical conditions like insomnia, anxiety, and mood disorders
  • Relaxes the muscles in the airway and chest to reduce symptoms of asthma

Other cannabinoids such as THC provide powerful benefits towards asthma. Some of the effects of THC toward asthma include:

  • Relaxes the airway to allow better flow of oxygen (bronchodilator)
  • Reduces several different inflammatory markers linked with asthma
  • Relaxes muscles in the chest and airway to reduce symptoms

Figuring out the right dose of CBD to use with asthma symptoms requires a bit of trial and error. This is because everyone responds to CBD differently.

Most people take a medium or high strength dose of CBD to find relief for their symptoms.

However, it’s wise to start with a smaller dose first and build up gradually over time to make sure there are no allergies to the product you’re using — which could ultimately make asthma symptoms worse.

If you’re especially prone to allergies, it’s recommended that you take this one step further and start by placing some of the oil or tincture on the back of one hand. After about an hour, if you don’t show any signs of allergy, you can start with a very small amount of the CBD product in the mouth. If no side-effects or allergies occur after an hour, you can start with the low-strength dose.

Over the next few days try building the dose up gradually until you find relief from your symptoms.

Calculating CBD Dosage Strengths By Weight

Unit of MeasureLow StrengthMedium StrengthHigh Strength
Imperial (pounds)1 mg every 10 lbs3 mg every 10 lbs6 mg every 10 lbs
Metric (kilograms)1 mg every 4.5 kg3 mg every 4.5 kg6 mg every 4.5 kg

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Potential Side-Effects of CBD

Although CBD is proven to be highly safe many times over, it’s important to know about the potential side-effects it may produce. Everybody is different, and what works in one person doesn’t always work the same way for another.

Here are some of the most common side-effects of CBD:

  • Appetite Suppression
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Lightheadedness
  • Lower heart rate
  • Sedation

Final Verdict: Using CBD for Asthma

Although there are many different causes of asthma, it always results with inflammation in the airway — restricting the amount of air that can move into the lungs.

CBD is a useful supplement for asthmatics through its role in stopping inflammation at several different levels in the inflammatory cascade.

We recommend discussing CBD supplementation with your doctor before taking it yourself. It’s also important to make sure you don’t have any allergies, or adverse reactions to the CBD  before taking larger doses — start small and build up the dose gradually over time.


References

  1. Vos, T., Allen, C., Arora, M., Barber, R. M., Bhutta, Z. A., Brown, A., … & Coggeshall, M. (2016). Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 310 diseases and injuries, 1990–2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015. The Lancet, 388(10053), 1545-1602.
  2. Lozano, R., Naghavi, M., Foreman, K., Lim, S., Shibuya, K., Aboyans, V., … & AlMazroa, M. A. (2012). Global and regional mortality from 235 causes of death for 20 age groups in 1990 and 2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. The lancet, 380(9859), 2095-2128.
  3. Vuolo, F., Petronilho, F., Sonai, B., Ritter, C., Hallak, J. E., Zuardi, A. W., … & Dal-Pizzol, F. (2015). Evaluation of serum cytokines levels and the role of cannabidiol treatment in animal model of asthma. Mediators of inflammation, 2015.
  4. Laughter, D., Istvan, J. A., Tofte, S. J., & Hanifin, J. M. (2000). The prevalence of atopic dermatitis in Oregon schoolchildren. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 43(4), 649-655.
  5. Holgate, S. T. (2008). Pathogenesis of asthma. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 38(6), 872-897.
  6. Burstein, S. (2015). Cannabidiol (CBD) and its analogs: a review of their effects on inflammation. Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry, 23(7), 1377-1385.
  7. Hegde, V. L., Nagarkatti, P. S., & Nagarkatti, M. (2011). Role of myeloid-derived suppressor cells in amelioration of experimental autoimmune hepatitis following activation of TRPV1 receptors by cannabidiol. PloS one, 6(4), e18281.

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