There’s a common misconception that cannabis restricts your breathing in the same manner cigarettes do. Actually, cannabis is known as a bronchodilator, or in other words, a substance that opens up certain areas of the respiratory system. Cannabis has even been used as a treatment for asthma in the past, and studies show that vaporizing cannabis, or even ingesting it, can lead to increased lung function and much-needed relief for asthma sufferers.
Bronchodilators function by dilating the bronchi and bronchioles. This allows for increased airflow to the lungs. Asthma is a restriction of this area, which explains why cannabis has been used for this ailment in the past. Cannabis was even advertised openly in newspapers in New Zealand in the 1800’s as a remedy for asthma, among other things.
There have been a number of studies conducted investigating the effects of cannabis use on the respiratory system. In 1973 the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that found: “Marihuana smoke, unlike cigarette smoke, causes broncho-dilation rather than broncho-constriction [narrowing of the air passages] and, unlike opiates, does not cause central respiratory depression [i.e. a decrease in breathing].” Good news for the smokers out there.
However, there are a few catches, one being that smoking instead of vaporizing cannabis can cause other adverse effects like irritating your throat and giving you a cough. Luckily ingesting cannabis was found to be just as effective a bronchodilator in a 1978 study. More recently, the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults conducted a 20-year study from 1985-2006 on 5000 subjects with varied cannabis and tobacco habits. It found that cannabis smokers experienced no decreased pulmonary function, and actually showed improvement compared to their tobacco-smoking counterparts.
There’s still research to be done to fully conclude that cannabis would be an effective treatment for respiratory ailments including asthma. The current studies are promising, and with others suggesting cannabis contains lung cancer-fighting properties, we can be hopeful that vaporizing cannabis is leaps and bounds better for you than lighting up a cigarette. Keep an eye out for more research, get regular checkups, and maybe try an edible to help you breathe a little easier.
Shasta Nelson is a California Native and a cannabis connoisseur. She's been involved in the industry at every level since she was a teenager. Currently she provides content for Roottie, DOPE Magazine, and Terpenes and Testing. She's also a creative writer, with a graphic novel underway.