When we’ve been through a tough time, such as COVID-19, we often say we can breathe easier. And if something is straightforward, it’s “as natural as breathing.”
But for many people, breathing isn’t easy or comfortable. From chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD to the “air hunger” of a severe anxiety attack, breathing troubles affect both adults and children worldwide.
Medications including bronchodilators, antihistamines and corticosteroids are often used to treat breathing disorders. However, research reveals that cannabis and other natural approaches could help you breathe easier without many prescription drugs’ side effects.
Cannabis Compounds May Make Breathing Easier If You’ve Had COVID-19
Recent research suggests that natural approaches, including cannabis, can relieve the symptoms associated with some respiratory conditions.
Studies continue to reveal how the many compounds and terpenes in cannabis can benefit the health of both body and mind, and some studies suggest that these compounds, especially cannabidiol, or CBD, can make breathing more manageable too.
But the situation is complicated.
Much of the research on the respiratory effects of cannabis comes from studies that involve smoking – a favorite way to use cannabis. Those studies reveal a mixed picture of benefits and potential risks for respiratory health.
Even though smoking cannabis is less risky to the lungs and respiratory system than smoking cigarettes, the process still involves combustion, which creates toxins. Those toxins can irritate the airway and lungs, and over time, smoking cannabis frequently could make cell changes that lead to cancer and other respiratory illnesses.
But some research indicates that smoking cannabis rarely, about once or twice a month, could help to improve symptoms of COPD and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Researchers believe that’s because CBD has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect that could reduce swelling in lung and bronchial tissues. THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive compound that causes a euphoric high, can also play a role in reducing the inflammation associated with chronic lung diseases.
Smoking cannabis may have some contradictory effects on breathing. But there appear to be clearer benefits from using cannabis in other forms. CBD oils can be vaped or inhaled using diffusers or steam, which bypasses the risks of combustion. Teas made from boiled or steeped cannabis leaves can also help to relieve congestion, reduce inflammation and support the immune system overall. For some people, even edibles and topicals can provide symptom relief.
Along with acting directly on the respiratory system, cannabis may also help some breathing disorders’ secondary symptoms. Many people with chronic breathing conditions such as COPD, asthma, and IPF also struggle with anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Cannabis has documented properties for reducing anxiety and relieving stress that can also trigger episodes of dyspnea.
Can Cannabis Reduce Lung Inflammation with COVID-19?
Scientists are now looking at cannabis as a possible adjunct therapy for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19. Although research is preliminary, Forbes reports that scientists are hopeful that it has “potential for reducing susceptibility to the disease, and even discussed whether it could be used as an antiviral medication.” Most of this research is focused on cannabis derived from CBD, a well-known anti inflammatory and how it may treat dangerous lung inflammation caused by the virus.
One of the biggest struggles medical personnel face when treating the novel coronavirus is reducing inflammation caused by the ‘Cytokine storm”. This cytokine superstorm is “a severe immune reaction in which the body releases too many cytokines into the blood too quickly. Cytokines play an important role in normal immune responses, but having a large amount of them released in the body all at once can be harmful.” Previous research has shown that CBD can reduce a number of pro-inflammatory cytokines, leading to reduced inflammation, without many of the negative side effects associated with pharmaceutical medications under review.
What Makes It Hard to Breathe?
Breathing is controlled by the autonomous nervous system, which is why we don’t have to remember to take a breath consciously. But the respiratory system that makes breathing possible is a complicated one with connections to the lungs, heart, and the central nervous system, so there are many factors that can interfere with healthy breathing at any point in the process.
Common causes of breathing problems include:
1. Allergies, Infections and Viruses
Wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing are often caused by allergens like pollen and mold. Most of the time, these breathing problems are short-lived and can be remedied by avoiding the allergen or taking an antihistamine.
But allergens can also trigger episodes of more severe breathing disorders like asthma. Likewise, viruses that cause colds and flu can also cause temporary breathing problems due to congestion in the sinuses and upper respiratory system.
2. Respiratory Diseases, Such As COVID-19
Respiratory diseases can affect any part of the system, including the airways and lungs. Common respiratory conditions include asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a group of breathing disorders that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Lung cancers, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), and cystic fibrosis are also respiratory diseases, as are acute conditions like pneumonia and pleurisy, an inflammation of the lining surrounding the lungs. Now we can add COVID-19 to this list as well.
3. Neurological Conditions
Some progressive neurological conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and Alzheimer’s disease also cause breathing problems because they affect the nerves and muscles that control the respiratory process.
Dyspnea is an umbrella term for several conditions that cause a feeling often described as “shortness of breath,” an inability to take in enough air when breathing, or a feeling of discomfort when breathing.
Viruses, bacteria, and even medications can cause dyspnea and respiratory infections and some systemic diseases, including anemia. But anxiety, fear, and stress can also cause dyspnea. In these situations, a surge of cortisol and adrenaline can trigger rapid breathing or a feeling of suffocation.
The causes of breathing troubles can range from mild and temporary to serious and debilitating, and that means many different treatments are available to address them. People with temporary congestion from allergies, a cold, COVID-19, or flu might get easy relief from over the counter decongestants and antihistamines.
For asthma and other chronic breathing conditions, inhalers and nebulizers infused with steroids and other anti-inflammatory medications can relax airways and reduce inflammation.