Log in

Get your medical card online in minutes!

Get started

Smoking Weed With Asthma: Risks, Benefits, Alternatives

old woman holding and smelling weed in a small clear container

Cannabis has a range of benefits. It is used to alleviate pain, insomnia, depression, and more. However, that doesn’t mean that cannabis is without its risks, especially when it comes to smoking. Due to cannabis smoke’s ability to irritate the lungs and potentially worsen asthma symptoms, smoking weed with asthma is not recommended.

However, there are alternatives to smoking — including edibles, topicals, and cannabis inhalers  that can still provide you with cannabis’s medicinal benefits without the lung and throat irritation caused by smoking.

Get Your Medical Card

Connect with a licensed physician online in minutes.

Should You Smoke Weed If You Have Asthma?

While past studies and anecdotal evidence show that there is a difference between smoking cannabis and cigarettes (cigarette smoke is more likely to cause lung cancer than cannabis smoke), smoking, in general, is not recommended if you have asthma. Marijuana smoke may contain harmful chemicals found in burning materials that may exacerbate your asthma symptoms.

However, that does not mean cannabis itself is bad to consume. In fact, research suggests that cannabis may benefit people with asthma or other respiratory problems. Cannabis contains several cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), with proven anti-inflammatory properties. And many studies on cannabis’s effect on pulmonary function have found that THC produces a bronchodilatory reaction, meaning it makes breathing easier by opening up your airways.

Potential Benefits of Smoking Weed With Asthma

As previously stated, THC works like most bronchodilators — medications used to treat asthma — by relaxing the muscles in the lungs and widening airways. And for some people with asthma, cannabis is an immediate bronchodilator. It provides fast relief or stops sudden asthma symptoms, just like commonly used inhalers that contain corticosteroids, but without the common side effects, such as anxiety and high blood pressure.

Smoking weed also has other benefits aside from relieving asthma symptoms. Cannabis has been shown to relieve pain, anxiety, insomnia, and other symptoms that a person with asthma may experience. Although, these benefits come from the cannabis itself, not the act of smoking.

Finally, a large 20-year study found that lung function improved in moderate cannabis smokers with asthma without suffering extensive damage to the lungs, as seen with cigarette smokers. However, the results are mixed, as some studies conclude that smoking marijuana causes lung damage.

Potential Risks of Inhaling Marijuana Smoke

Smoking cannabis over time may lead to a higher risk of developing respiratory complications, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and bronchitis. A 2022 study examining chest CTs to investigate the effects of smoking marijuana on the lungs found that cannabis smokers had higher rates of “bronchial thickening, mucoid, and bronchiectasis” than nonsmokers and tobacco-only smokers.

The study also concluded that airway inflammation and emphysema — a lung condition that causes shortness of breath — were more common in marijuana smokers than nonsmokers and tobacco-only smokers.

Additionally, a 2021 survey led by Joanna Zeiger found that half of marijuana users with uncontrolled asthma smoke marijuana. While the participants reported less pain, decreased anxiety, and improved sleep, they also reported increased coughing (19.3%), wheezing (5.7%), and shortness of breath (6.8%) after smoking cannabis.

Some of those effects can worsen asthma symptoms or even trigger asthmatic attacks. It is known that smoking cannabis, especially for new consumers, can induce coughing, which may worsen asthma symptoms.

Some people can also be allergic to marijuana, even if they are not cannabis users. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), inhaling marijuana allergens may result in ocular and nasal allergy symptoms, and allergic asthma with shortness of breath and wheezing can occur.

What to Do If You Have Asthma and Need to Use Marijuana

There may be potential benefits for asthma when cannabis is taken in ways other than smoking. Some methods include vaping, consuming edibles and cannabis oil, and using cannabis inhalers.

Out of these alternatives, vaping isn’t necessarily the best choice. Vaping is associated with lung problems, especially when the product contains harmful cutting agents such as propylene glycol, vitamin E acetate, and vegetable glycerin. However, nebulizers and vaporizers that heat cannabis or move air by compression rather than burning it may be safer options than smoking. With that said, they have not been adequately studied, so we still don’t understand if they pose any risks to people with asthma.

Safer methods of consuming THC for asthma patients include using edibles, tinctures, topicals, and, ideally, cannabis inhalers. Cannabis inhalers are very similar to the pump inhalers usually prescribed to people with asthma (usually containing corticosteroids). These inhalers can provide a precise dosage of cannabinoids and do not require heat or smoke.

The Bottom Line: Should You Smoke Weed With Asthma?

It is not recommended that asthma patients smoke (or vape) cannabis. Inhaled cannabis is an irritant and can cause increased wheezing, sputum, and coughing. These can worsen asthma symptoms, and continued smoking may lead to long-term effects and complications.

While smoking cannabis may have some benefits, such as dilation of respiratory passages without the side effects associated with corticosteroids, the risks far outweigh the benefits. If you have asthma and need medical marijuana, it’s recommended that you use safer delivery methods such as edibles, cannabis oils, cannabis topicals, and inhalers.

Get Your Medical Card

Connect with a licensed physician online in minutes.

Keep Reading