Treating Your Allergies With Weed
Researchers confirm what medical users have long known.
- by Meagan Angus
- Wednesday, March 15, 2017 1:30am
Good news, stuffed-up stoners! As it turns out, cannabis could be the next treatment for your chronic, acute seasonal allergies. It all starts with cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD.
For some time now, self-medicating folks have been aware that CBD oil works as a powerful treatment for asthma and COPD by suppressing the symptoms that lead to an attack. Now there is a paper in the journal Pulmonary Pharmacology and Therapeutics to back them up: CBD treatments have proven to stop the decrease of airway flow and make breathing easier. Further, when an allergen was introduced into the subjects, CBD oil helped control the production and behavior of mast cells—the white blood cells that freak out when an allergen enters your body and produce histamines, the part of our immune system that provide the classic effects of allergies: sneezing, rashes, itching, coughing, all the fun stuff.
Other cool stuff cannabinoids do for allergy sufferers: control inflammation, open the sinus passageways, relieve nasal pressure, manage pain, and of course induce calmness and sleep. Interesting side note: Histamine production is also kicked up when we are super-active or stressed out, but it is mellow when we are mellow, and pretty much stops when we sleep.
And remember, CBD is the compound in cannabis that does not get you high, meaning there’s no reason it can’t serve as a regular treatment for these issues. But if you have the day off, do consider the “entourage effect.” When THC and CBD work together, they both do a better, more complete job. CBD oils or edibles with as little as 3 percent THC will induce this effect without getting you mega-stoned.
I am not a health-care professional, but let me make a suggestion: If you are feeling the effects of spring already starting to kick in, consider blending some locally grown whole-plant CBD-rich oil with a hyper-local honey at a dosage level that allows you to take half a teaspoon a day. Antimicrobial and antibacterial, honey has been used as a medicine for thousands of years. Hyper-local honey is created by bees in your city, maybe even your neighborhood, and it contains the pollens you are breathing in daily and possibly reacting to. Taking small doses of honey containing these local pollens can, for some, act as an inoculation against those allergens, reducing or eliminating your reactions to them.
However: If you think you may be allergic to cannabis—it is itself a pollinating plant, after all—talk to your doctor or naturopath to make sure this is safe for you, and to get a proper dosage dialed in.
Allergies Buggin’ Out? Cannabis Can Help, or Hurt
It’s allergy season again, and it’s no fun at all. If you’ve got seasonal allergies, it’s a familiar story. The weather is finally nice enough to be outside, but you can’t enjoy it because you’re spending the whole time sneezing and looking through blurry, watery eyes!
If the standard decongestants and nose sprays haven’t worked for you yet, don’t lose hope. You might be surprised to find help in an unlikely place—the cannabis plant!
“I certainly have some people say that it helps their allergies.”
That’s right—while cannabis can sometimes cause its own allergies, studies are showing that it can also help to curb the effects of allergic responses.
Learn the science and find out whether cannabis can help you defeat your seasonal allergies!
How Allergies Work
Allergies are the body’s way of protecting us from invaders, but allergic reactions often get triggered by harmless substances. When something like a piece of dust, mold, or pollen gets into your system, your body reacts, producing custom antibodies to attack the ‘invader’. These antibodies trigger chemicals like histamine which bring on our familiar allergy symptoms like sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itching, watery eyes, ear congestion, inflammation, wheezing, coughing, or even asthma.
Can Cannabis Help Reduce Allergies?
It’s clear allergies can be rough. So can cannabis help?
Some experts say “yes.” Cannabis may be able to help when it comes to reducing allergies, and some cannabis consumers have already noticed the connection.
“I certainly have some people say that it helps their allergies.” explains Dr. Frank Lucido, a cannabis clinician from Berkeley, CA. As a doctor who regularly interacts with cannabis patients, Dr. Lucido says that he rarely see patients who suffer from cannabis-related allergies, but does have some clients who report using cannabis eases their allergic reactions.
Still, other doctor’s say cannabis has potential but may not be all that effective in its current form.
Cannabis for Asthma Control?! See What Strains Leafly Reviewers Prefer
Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, instructor at Harvard Medical School and board member of the advocacy group Doctors For Cannabis Regulation, says that while he knows that some people use cannabis for allergies, he hasn’t come across that use in his patients.
Still he explains that, “some of the cannabinoids have a lot of anti inflammatory properties… so hypothetically, it could help.”
Whether you are dealing nasal inflammation, airway hyperreactivity, allergic asthma, or an immune overreaction, using anti inflammatory agents is usually helpful.
Still, Dr. Grinspoon cautions that just taking cannabis might not be as effective the standard over-the-counter allergy remedies.
“I don’t think cannabis, as we’re taking it now, is nearly as strong as, for example, Flonase.”
“I don’t think cannabis, as we’re taking it now, is nearly as strong as, for example, Flonase.” He explains, adding, “I don’t think it’s a great treatment per se for allergies. That isn’t to say it doesn’t help people. If it helps people, that’s great.”
But cannabis for allergies is not something he’s recommending to his patients.
Dr. Grinspoon says he could envision a nasal spray in the future made from concentrated anti-inflammatory cannabinoids and terpenes. With something more targeted at the source of the allergies, he says he could see cannabis, “having the hypothetical potential for being a very effective treatment in the future.”
Still, for those who say cannabis helps them when their allergies get out of control, it can make a difference. It can be amazing to notice the quick reduction in all that sneezing and itching.
So what does the scientific research have to say? Unfortunately, we don’t have enough controlled human studies to say definitively whether cannabis can help with your allergies. But, there are quite a few studies that support the idea that cannabis can play helpful role in reducing allergies. Here are the facts:
Cannabis Vs. Histamine
One of the main ways that cannabis can help with allergies is through reducing the level of histamine released into your system. Histamine, which is triggered by antibodies, brings on a whole host of allergic responses. So preventing or reducing histamine release can make a big difference. One way cannabis can do this is through reducing the antibodies that trigger histamine.
For example, A 2009 study found that cannabinoids impaired activation of mouse T-cells (a type of white blood cell). Since T-cell activation increases antibody responses, it leads to increased histamine and thus, increased allergic reactions. By impairing this activation, cannabinoids are able to reduce the antibody response and help lesson your allergy symptoms.
And it’s not just cannabinoids that can help. Terpenes play a role as well. In a 2014 study, researchers found that alpha-pinene, a common terpene in cannabis, may also be able to help reduce antibody levels. Mice who were treated with the terpene showed decreased clinical symptoms of allergies, like rubbing their nose, eyes, and ears. But they also had significantly lower levels of nasal immunoglobulin E, an important antibody that triggers histamine release.
A cell study from 2005 suggests cannabis can also prevent increased histamine responses through a different route. This study found that exposure to THC could suppress mast cell activation. Mast cells are found in connective tissue and their activation triggers the release of histamine.
So suppressing mast cell activation could prevent or reduce the severity of your allergies.
Cannabis Vs. Inflammation
When allergies hit, inflammation plays a big role, so one way that cannabis may be able to help reduce allergy symptoms is through preventing or reducing inflammation.
“Cannabis seems to inhibit the inflammatory pathway.” explains Dr. Sue Sisley, a cannabis researcher currently conducting controlled human studies on cannabis’ effects. “And that certainly does relate to allergies because if you can cut the inflammatory pathway, then it could certainly help the untreated allergies, all the classic symptoms, the itchy, runny nose, itchiness, hives, all those kinds of things.”
Still, Dr. Sisley cautions that this is still theoretical. “It makes sense. It’s just that I can’t back it up with science,” she explains. “It’s like most things in cannabis research, we have a mountain of anecdotal reports, but very little objective controlled data to back it up.”
Her study, which is investigating cannabis’ use for veterans with PTSD, will also take a closer look at cytokines—a marker for inflammation.
“We’re treating the veterans with all different varieties. So there’s a high-THC, a high-CBD, there’s a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD. So we’ll be able to see how smoking these different varieties of flower affect the levels of their cytokines,” Dr. Sisley explains. “We’ve never really measured that, so in this study were drawing all these cytokines, and measuring their concentration.”
While the study isn’t designed to look at allergies, the research on cytokines may shed light on cannabis effects on inflammation – and this route towards easing allergic responses.
THC Vs. Allergic Skin Reactions
THC may also be able to help when it comes to allergic skin reactions. In a study from 2007, scientists looked at whether THC-based drugs could help reduce allergic responses in the skin. Researchers applied synthetic THC to the skin of mice with severe skin allergies and found that the skin cells of the treated mice had less cytokines—a chemical responsible for signaling immune cells to come to an irritated area. Researchers say this means cannabis could be helpful for reducing allergic reactions in skin.
CBD and THC Open Up Airways
In addition to reducing the symptoms of your runny nose and itchy skin, cannabis can also help with more severe allergy symptoms like asthma. Both THC and CBD have been shown to be effective bronchodilators in animal models—meaning that they are able to open up constricted airways. You can even find THC inhalers designed to help frequent asthma sufferers. Still, asthma can be a dangerous condition and needs to be treated with care. Make sure to talk to a doctor before making any changes to your asthma treatment plan.
While research on cannabis for allergies is still in an early phase, there is some evidence to support the idea that cannabis can help with your allergies. Whether it’s reducing your congestion and itching, calming your skin, or opening up your airways – cannabis may help.
But don’t take our word for it! Try it out the next time you get those springtime sniffles. You might be surprised at how much better you feel.
Rising Cases of Cannabis Allergy
While cannabis can definitely help ease allergy symptoms, like many pollen-rich plants it’s also been known to cause it’s own allergic responses. And as legal cannabis use increases, reports of cannabis allergies have increased as well, with commonly reported symptoms like increased congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, post-nasal drip, and itchy eyes or nose. In more rare cases, other symptoms may arise as well. Some folks complain about migraines when they smell cannabis. Some report skin rashes from contact with cannabis resin. In more severe cases, cannabis allergies can worsen asthma or even cause anaphylactic shock.
In addition, some researchers have begun to notice a trend of cross-reactivity with allergies to cannabis or hemp and certain other plants such as tobacco, natural latex, plant-food-derived alcoholic beverages, and tomatoes. This means that those allergic to cannabis are more likely to also be allergic to these other plants-derived substances. Research is still unclear whether halting cannabis use can reduce allergic responses to these other plants.
While these allergic responses are more commonly reported amongst cannabis users, they may also affect those who are exposed passively to cannabis in their home environment (such as those who live with a cannabis smoker, or live near a cannabis grow site) or those who are exposed in occupational settings.
Until federal prohibition’s end makes research easier, allergy sufferers will have to do the research, and experiment for themselves.
Asthma and Cannabis (Marijuana): Study Offers Closer Look at Risks and Benefits to People with Asthma
As cannabis use becomes legal in more states, many people are seeking it out for medical use. Medical cannabis can be used to treat symptoms of pain, insomnia and anxiety.
Researchers say cannabis use is poorly studied in allergy and asthma patients. Last year, Allergy & Asthma Network partnered with Canna Research Foundation to conduct a national survey of adults with asthma and cannabis (marijuana) use.
The Allergy & Asthma Network Pain, Exercise and Cannabis Experience (PEACE) survey results were recently published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
The survey involved 489 adults recruited by Allergy & Asthma Network. Researchers learned that 18% used cannabis. The majority of participants were female (72.4%) and Caucasian (71.6%).
Is it safe for people with asthma to smoke cannabis (marijuana)?
Many people with asthma are smoking or vaping cannabis. This could be harmful to their lungs and airways, especially in adolescents.
In the PEACE survey, 53.4% of cannabis users with asthma smoked it, while 35.2% vaped cannabis. Further, about half of the cannabis smokers with asthma reported uncontrolled asthma symptoms.
“It surprised me that over half of the cannabis users in the study who have asthma were smoking it,” says Joanna Zeiger, PhD, principal investigator of the PEACE survey.
It’s not recommended that people with asthma smoke or vape cannabis. Smoking or vaping cannabis can cause increased cough, wheezing and shortness of breath. It can increase risk of an asthma attack or asthma flare. In the PEACE survey, nearly one-third of those who smoked cannabis reported cough.
Is there a safe way to use cannabis if you have asthma? Are there benefits?
There may be potential cannabis benefits for asthma when taking it in other ways than smoking or vaping. Alternative ways to use cannabis include:
- cannabis edibles
- cannabis tincture/oil
- cannabis topical products.
These routes of administration may be safer since they do not impact the lungs the same way inhaled routes (smoking or vaping) do.
“For some people with asthma, cannabis acts as an immediate bronchodilator. A bronchodilator relaxes the airways which can help breathing. But that doesn’t make cannabis a long-term solution for asthma control,” Zeiger says. “Patients need to speak with their doctors about their cannabis use. They should work together with their doctor to decide on the route of administration that is safest for them.”
In the PEACE survey, participants also cited their purpose for using cannabis. These included:
- medical reasons (26.1%)
- recreational use (34.1%)
- both medical and recreational use (39.8%).
Survey participants reported improved sleep, less pain and decreased anxiety after using cannabis. But survey participants also reported increased symptoms after using cannabis:
- coughing (19.3%)
- wheeze (5.7%)
- shortness of breath (6.8%).
It appears that many asthma and allergy patients are using cannabis for a variety of reasons that may have nothing to do with their asthma, Zeiger says.
Can you be allergic to cannabis (marijuana)?
Yes, people can be allergic to marijuana. People can develop an allergy to cannabis even if they are not cannabis users. About 2.5% of participants in the PEACE survey who were NOT current cannabis users reported a cannabis allergy. As more states legalize cannabis, doctors should expect to see more people experience allergic reactions to cannabis. This can occur due to occupational exposures. These reactions may be specific to a strain of cannabis.
It’s likely cannabis allergies have been around for years. Cannabis allergy may have gone unreported due to its illegal status. In addition, there is no current way to test for cannabis allergy.
Cannabis pollen grains typically emerge in late summer or early autumn and they can become airborne. This can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
What are cannabis allergy symptoms?
Cannabis allergy symptoms include:
- nasal congestion
- eye inflammation
Skin contact with marijuana – including the hemp version sometimes used in clothing – may cause eczema or hives. Severe reactions, including anaphylaxis, have been reported.
Should people who use or smoke cannabis talk with their doctor about it?
The researchers conducting the PEACE survey also sought to determine whether doctors and patients openly discussed cannabis use during visits.
In the PEACE survey, 37.5% of patients wanted to discuss cannabis use with their doctor. About 41% of doctors asked their patients either verbally or on an intake form about cannabis use.
Dr. Zeiger says doctors and patients need to be better educated on cannabis use and its potential health benefits and risks. More research is needed to learn more about cannabis use and its impact on asthma, allergies, eczema and urticaria.
“Patients should not be afraid to discuss cannabis with their doctors,” Dr. Zeiger says. “Patients want to be sure there won’t be any adverse effects of using cannabis with any other medications. And doctors need to know the benefits and adverse effects.”
How can doctors best help allergy and asthma patients who use cannabis?
In an American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology press release, board-certified allergist William Silvers, MD, said: “In order to more completely manage their allergy and asthma patients, allergists should increase their knowledge about cannabis. These include:
- types of cannabinoid
- route of use
- reasons for us
- side effects.
Efforts should be made to reduce smoking of cannabis and recommend other safe routes such as edibles and tinctures.”