Medical cannabis not proven long-term asthma relief

Judy Siegel-Itzkovich

I would like to know if medical cannabis has any beneficial effects for the treatment of asthma. D.M., via email

Judy Siegel-Itzkovich replies:

Although companies that grow and process medical cannabis are making claims that their products can benefit almost everything, one must be very careful before starting to use them. While patients who use the products usually say they help them, there has been very little scientific research that proves benefits, but risks have been proven scientifically.

For example, a study just published in the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis found that THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis – and not alcohol – is the most commonly detected substance causing intoxication in American drivers. In addition, no breath test has yet been developed to test how intoxicated marijuana users are; only a blood test in a medical facility can show this.
As for asthma, the National Center for Biotechnology Information of the US National Institutes of Health has published studies on the long-term health benefits of cannabis. In the short term, they may help a bit, but they can worsen asthma in the long term: “There is moderate evidence of a statistical association between cannabis smoking and improved airway dynamics with acute use, but not with chronic use.”

Smoking cannabis on a regular basis “is associated with chronic cough and phlegm production” and may cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, asthma and worsened lung function in some users,” they wrote.

“Less is known about the attributable effects of cannabis use on respiratory disease despite shared similarities with that of cigarette use and the fact that cannabis is the most commonly used inhaled drug in the US after tobacco, with an estimated 22.2 million people ages 12 years and older reporting current use.

Given the known relationships between tobacco smoking and multiple respiratory conditions, one could hypothesize that long-term cannabis smoking leads to similar [harmful] effects on respiratory health, and some investigators argue that cannabis smoking may be even more harmful than that of tobacco. Indeed, data collected from 15 volunteers suggest that smoking one cannabis joint can lead to four times the exposure to carbon monoxide and three to five times more tar deposition than smoking a single cigarette. This may be, in part, because cannabis smokers generally inhale more deeply and hold their breath for longer than do cigarette smokers and because cannabis cigarettes do not commonly have filters as tobacco cigarettes often do.”
There is no or insufficient evidence to support or refute a statistical association between cannabis smoking and asthma development or asthma exacerbation. “Cannabis smoking increases the risk of allergic disease or asthma. Alternative inhaled delivery methods of cannabis result in fewer respiratory symptoms,” the NCBI report continues.

Thus, until larger and more comprehensive studies on the effects of medical cannabis on asthma and other conditions are conducted, one should best consult with one’s family doctor or a lung specialist to avoid complications.

I am 15 years old and, like most people, never go anywhere without my cellphone. I do a lot of texting, even when walking. I want a new smartphone, but my mother says she won’t pay for one until I stop walking and texting. She says it’s dangerous because it means that I am not alert when going into traffic, and insists there could be other risks as well. Is it really so risky to walk while sending SMS messages and reading mail? B.N. Ra’anana, Israel

Judy Siegel-Itzkovich replies:

Obviously, texting while walking is a danger, because you aren’t aware of traffic. There is a law that bars wearing earphones connected to radios and other devices while walking in the street, because the wearer is distracted and could get run over; it is unfortunate that it is never enforced.

A nationwide US study found that pedestrians treated in emergency rooms for texting-and-walking-related injuries more than doubled since 2005. A well-known YouTube video three years ago showed a woman who fell headfirst into a fountain while using her smartphone.

Now, a recent study published in PLoS One (Public Library of Science) and conducted at Australia’s University of Queensland on walking and cellphone use found that it is dangerous, even in places where there is no vehicular traffic.

The study found that not only are people less likely to pay attention to their surroundings, but they even have trouble maintaining their balance and walking in a straight line while walking and texting, or reading messages on the screen.

The University of Queensland researchers found that smartphone use affects “gait performance,” which could potentially lead to all kinds of situations – bumping into strangers, running into signs or even falling into a hole – which wouldn’t occurred if you were aware of your surroundings. A total of 26 healthy people were asked to walk along a line while performing three tasks – texting, reading from a smartphone and walking without a phone. After their movement was analyzed, the researchers concluded that texting significantly affected their walking. They moved more slowly, looked around less and deviated more from the required path. In an urban area with many people doing the same thing, this is very risky, they concluded.

If you want an Israeli expert to answer your medical questions, write to Breaking Israel News health and science senior reporter Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at judy@israel365.com with your initials, age, gender and place of residence and details of the medical condition, if any.