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It seems counterintuitive that cannabis has properties to treat asthmatic symptoms, but this has been demonstrated in studies dating clear back to the 1970s. Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the airways characterized by bronchospasm and airflow obstruction. Both genetic predisposition and environmental factors play a role in asthma. As cited in a 2000 study in Nature, THC exerts a strong bronchodilation effect when vaporized.

As noted in the Nature study, both airway dilation and spasm response are controlled by the endocannabinoid system.

As noted in the Nature study, both airway dilation and spasm response are controlled by the endocannabinoid system.

In a noted study from 1975, Donald Taskin of the University of California Los Angeles conducted a study on otherwise healthy patients with stable bronchial asthma. Taskin had these participants exercise until they suffered acute asthma bronchospasm. During the attack, the patients inhaled either placebo cannabis or 2% THC cannabis. The group receiving the placebo took 30 to 60 minutes to recover from the bronchospasm, while the group receiving the actual cannabis recovered immediately. Taskin effectively treated bronchospasm with cannabis containing only 2% THC, only 1/8th as potent as today’s average medical cannabis. The Taskin study supports the idea that minimal THC is required to dilate the airways. Later studies put the optimal dose at only 200 micrograms (well below the threshold for psychoactivity).

Molecules to target Asthma

THC-dominant varieties high in pinene are suggested because pinene is a bronchodilator. 

Best method of ingestion 

Tinctures of cannabis were a popular asthma treatment in the 19th century. However, if swallowed, they were likely to take too long to work to be effective for an acute asthma attack because of the time it takes to metabolize an ingested dose. A sublingual (under the tongue) dose is likely more effective.

Some patients react to cannabis vapor with bronchospasms, so care must be exercised. Start with a very small inhalation when stable before bronchospasm to gauge how it might be tolerated. Additionally, it is essential to use extremely clean cannabis, low in microbial and mold/yeast counts, since these pathogens can irritate the airways or cause secondary lung infections (yet another reason that laboratory analysis is critical).