Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening genetic disease with no cure. However, cannabis may help some patients with cystic fibrosis address their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life.
There is much talk about medical marijuana and the variety of chronic illnesses that it can help to manage. At present, medical cannabis is legal in more than two-thirds of the states throughout America. According to the Lung Institute, medical cannabis is effective at reducing inflammation, easing pain, improving sleep, reducing phlegm, and supporting the immune system. While research into the use of cannabis to treat cystic fibrosis is limited, this natural option shows much promise in addressing some of the condition’s symptoms.
This article will discuss what cystic fibrosis is, what some of the conventional treatment options are, and what studies have been published regarding cannabis and cystic fibrosis. And of course, we’ll list five strains that may help address some of the symptoms of cystic fibrosis.
What Is Cystic Fibrosis (CF)?
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition that affects more than 30,000 people in the United States. People who suffer from the disease are born with it – it is not a condition that a person develops or contracts later on in life.
To be diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, the person must have inherited two copies of a particular gene – one from each parent. Since many different gene mutations cause CF, people who suffer from the disease can have very different symptoms, depending on the two genes that they carry.
Cystic fibrosis causes a wide range of challenging symptoms that affect the entire body.
Estimates suggest that one in 25 people carries the gene that causes CF, and many people who carry it do so without ever knowing.
On a molecular level, the gene affected by CF controls the movement of water and salt in and out of cells. As such, people who suffer from cystic fibrosis experience a buildup of thick, sticky mucus on the lungs, digestive system, and other organs. This buildup of mucus causes a wide range of challenging symptoms that affect the entire body. Let’s take a look at the two of the most common ones:
A buildup of mucus in the lungs causes chronic infections, which means that people with CF struggle with reduced lung function. CF patients sometimes have to take hours out of each day to do physiotherapy and take nebulizer treatments. The sudden worsening of health can lead to frequent hospitalization, often for weeks at a time.
Some of the effects of the respiratory system due to CF can include:
- Sinus infection
- Stuffy nose
- Sinus pain
- Mucus-filled cough
- Frequent lung infections
- Inability to exercise
Digestive and Endocrine Systems
CF can cause the pancreas to get blocked with mucus, and when this happens, the enzymes required for digesting food can’t reach the stomach. As such, people with this disease often need to take more than 50 tablets a day to help digest food and keep respiratory problems in check.
When it comes to digestive symptoms, those with this disease often suffer from:
- Poor growth
- Lack of appetite
- Intestinal blockage
- Abdominal pain
CF also causes additional problems. For instance, men with the disease are usually infertile, and pregnancy can put a lot of stress on the body of a woman who suffers from the condition. Additional complications include bone disease, bowel obstructions, and CF-related diabetes, amongst other things.
Conventional Treatment for Cystic Fibrosis
As we mentioned previously, there is currently no cure for cystic fibrosis. Medical professionals tend to treat the symptoms of CF on a case-by-case basis, as the effects often differ from one person to the next.
Conventional treatment aims to relieve the symptoms and reduce any complications that may occur as a result of cystic fibrosis.
Treatment aims to relieve the symptoms and reduce any complications that may occur as a result of this disease. Moreover, doctors look to prevent and treat intestinal blockages and infections and loosen and remove mucus from the lungs. Good nutrition is a vital part of the treatment plan.
Also, since there are various symptoms associated with cystic fibrosis, there are several different treatment methods, some of which we will take a closer look at below.
Chest Physical Therapy
The loosening up of mucus in the lungs makes it easier to cough up and expel from the body. Chest physical therapy helps to loosen mucus, and usually, CF patients will do this one to four times a day. A common technique is to clap with cupped hands on the front and back of the chest. There are also breathing techniques that CF patients can use to loosen mucus.
Medical professionals might recommend a long-term program that could improve lung function and overall well-being. Pulmonary rehabilitation is typically done on an outpatient basis and might include physical exercise, counseling and support, breathing techniques to loosen mucus, nutritional counseling, and education about the condition.
Surgical and Other Procedures
There are also a few invasive and non-invasive procedures that health professionals might carry out to treat this condition:
Feeding tubes: Because CF interferes with digestion, people with this condition can’t absorb nutrients from food very well. Therefore, doctors might suggest using a feeding tube while the CF patient is asleep to deliver extra nutrition.
Nasal polyp removal: This refers to surgery to remove nasal polyps that obstruct breathing
Bowel surgery: If the bowel becomes blocked, the patient may need surgery to remove the obstruction(s). When a section of the bowel folds in on itself (known as intussusception), it may also require surgical repair.
Lung transplant: In severe cases, if the patient has problems breathing, increased resistance to antibiotics, or life-threatening lung complications, a lung transplant may be necessary.
Oxygen therapy: If the patient experiences a decline in blood oxygen levels, they may need to breathe pure oxygen to prevent high blood pressure in the lungs.
Studies on Cannabis and Cystic Fibrosis
It seems that very few medical scientists have delved into research concerning cannabis and cystic fibrosis. Hopefully, this will change with the methods of medical cannabis delivery and synthetic derivatives of marijuana being developed more rapidly than in previous years.
Although there is a lack of research in this area, some studies have been conducted. For example, a 2002 review article by Esther Fride discussed the possibility of marijuana as a potential medicine for cystic fibrosis. Fride’s paper concluded that cannabis could potentially alleviate many of the symptoms associated with CF.
Appetite, Nausea, and Vomiting
One of the symptoms that cannabis could potentially address is decreased appetite. Cannabis has been known for years to stimulate the appetite. THC is the cannabinoid thought to be effective in addressing this symptom.
Lack of appetite, which can result in malnutrition, is a contributing factor to the mortality of CF patients, and this is why some doctors have proposed giving THC to those suffering from the disease. They believe that THC will alleviate malnutrition, and therefore help to prevent chronic wasting in CF patients.
Cannabinoids could also potentially alleviate the nausea and vomiting that often accompanies appetite loss in CF.
Fatty Acid Imbalance and the Endocannabinoid System
Fride’s research suggests that a fatty acid imbalance is often observed in CF patients. This is relevant because fatty acids are precursors to endocannabinoids, cannabinoid-like compounds that the body produces naturally.
Endocannabinoids have various essential roles in our physiology. They influence many of the symptoms that occur in CF, such as lack of appetite, nausea, and lung pathology.
More evidence is needed, but Fride hypothesizes that an endocannabinoid deficiency could contribute to CF’s etiology. If this proves to be the case, cannabis-derived cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, could help to restore balance.
A 2011 study by Fride and Bregman supports this theory. The researchers administered THC to young mice with CF. They found that, compared to controls, the treated animals had improved motor activity and anxiety in adulthood. Both of these features may be influenced by fatty acid imbalance and endocannabinoid deficiency.
In the same year, the duo also published a paper suggesting THC administration could counter infertility in male CF mice. Again, they attribute this effect to reversing endocannabinoid dysfunction.
However, while these results are promising, further research is necessary to determine whether they can be replicated in humans.
Rates of Cannabis Use Among Cystic Fibrosis Patients
According to a 2020 survey, 16.5% of CF patients used medical cannabis in their lifetime, with 15.4% using it in the previous year.
The most common reasons for using cannabis included:
- Pain relief
- Appetite stimulation
The most common consumption methods were edibles and vaping.
Of the 31 participants who had used cannabis, 28 found it “a great deal effective” for their symptoms. Furthermore, 21 rated it as very important or important to their health.
5 Best Cannabis Strains for Cystic Fibrosis
[It is crucial to understand that cannabis is not an FDA-recognized medicine or treatment option for cystic fibrosis or for any related symptoms. If you live in a state where medical marijuana is illegal, be advised that consuming marijuana may result in criminal penalties.
Of course, not every marijuana strain is created equally, which is why you need to find the best one for cystic fibrosis. We offer five possibilities below. Please note that these haven’t been proven to be the best strains for cystic fibrosis in any studies; they are merely our recommendations.]
1. Silver Haze
Silver Haze was the first seed strain to deliver the full-strength haze experience quickly and compactly. A combination of Haze and the non-dominant indica variety Northern Lights, Silver Haze has a strong but clear-headed sativa effect. Its name derives from the large number of shiny THC glands (trichomes) that cover the buds.
With its high THC content, Silver Haze packs a punch that can give users a long-lasting body high. Medical cannabis consumers often appreciate the high THC content of this strain, as it contains between 20 – 24% THC on average – all but ensuring that any tension or stress will float away.
Silver Haze is also one of the best strains for anyone who suffers from a loss of appetite, as it kickstarts the hunger hormones without leaving the user stuck on the couch. As we have discussed above, lack of appetite is one of the significant symptoms associated with cystic fibrosis.
Blueberry is another strain with a high THC content. It’s a three-way cross between the indica strain, Afghani, a Thai sativa, and a Purple Thai variant. This strain is renowned for its unmistakable fresh blueberry aroma and flavor, making it a favorite among cannabis enthusiasts.
Blueberry’s THC content ranges between 15% and 24%, which is likely why some people have had success addressing cystic fibrosis symptoms. It leaves users feeling nicely relaxed, with a lasting feeling of peace and euphoria.
While appealing flavors and a great look are a bonus, this strain has achieved much hype for its potent medical benefits. Along with some incredible results for addressing anxiety, the deep bodily relaxation of Blueberry also may provide relief from pain, rigidity, and muscle spasms.
3. Blue Blood
A cross between Blueberry and OG Kush, Blue Blood can have a THC content of up to 20%. It carries the potent legacy of Blueberry and adds a sweet berry flavor to its diesel and pine undertones. Blue Blood users have described the high as slow-building, with a gradual feeling of euphoria and a high level of pain relief. For these reasons, Blue Blood may help some patients with chronic pain, muscle spasms, insomnia, and MS.
It’s also rated as one of the top strains used to address digestive problems, which is why it may be beneficial for some users with cystic fibrosis. Although this is quite a potent strain, it has a fairly high CBD content. Therefore, while it does offer a rewarding head and body high, it doesn’t leave the user feeling too sedated.
4. Black Widow
The name of this strain says it all – with THC levels that can go above 24%, Black Widow is one of the most potent cannabis strains of all time. It is only suitable for patients who have experience using cannabis because it is so intense that it could trigger panic attacks and THC-induced paranoia. However, for those who can tolerate it, this is an incredible strain to address physical pain, muscle spasms, depression, headaches, and everyday stress.
It has also shown promise in inducing hunger in patients with wasting syndrome, which is one of the big problems for CF. It’s a hybrid strain with an outstanding balance of both indica and sativa genetics. It delivers a forceful cerebral high with a fast onset that is highly intense and blissful, followed by laziness and couch lock. It’s best for evening and nighttime use because of its sedative effects.
Tangerine is a sativa-dominant hybrid with a fruity aroma and mango-like tropical flavors. It offers a euphoric and positive buzz while providing relief from stomach pain, headaches, and anxiety. Stomach pain is often a symptom of cystic fibrosis, which is why this strain may have the potential for managing this aspect of the condition.
Users state that the tangerine high is just as pleasant as the taste and is perfect for daytime use when a short-term energy boost is required. Consumers typically experience a strong euphoric onset that initially leaves them feeling energized, followed by a deep, happy relaxation through the body and mind that isn’t sedative but rather pain and tension-reducing.
Because of its powerful effects, its high average CBD level of 2%, and its THC level of up to 18%, this is a great strain for addressing chronic pain, inflammation, depression, and muscle spasms.
Final Thoughts on the Best Cannabis Strains for Cystic Fibrosis
Cystic fibrosis is an incurable disease, but thankfully some cannabis strains could help address some of its symptoms. Since THC is thought to be the most effective cannabinoid at alleviating some CF symptoms, we have chosen cannabis strains with a high THC content.
Of course, very little research has been conducted on cannabis for cystic fibrosis. We can only hope that as an increasing number of states legalize cannabis across the United States, more research will look into cannabis for cystic fibrosis.