Asthma sufferers: Does your doctor know you smoke weed?

Thousands are expected to attend the 4-20 marijuana smoke-in at Vancouver’s Sunset Beach Friday, and while the legalization goal of the annual Weed Day will soon be met, an event organizer says there is much more to protest. A woman smokes a joint during the annual 4-20 cannabis culture celebration at Sunset Beach in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday, April 20, 2017. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

By Salina May

People with asthma may wonder if smoking cannabis is hard on their health, and few studies have been done to shed much light.

The latest look-see into pot’s effect on asthma sufferers has coughed at least one thematic concern: patients may not be getting as much information from their doctors as they’d like.

The survey of members of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology posed questions about patterns of cannabis use; knowledge and attitudes about cannabis; and whether cannabis use affects their asthma.

A major takeaway is there seems to be a dearth of discussion when it comes to physicians advising their asthma patients about using pot to try to quell their symptoms. This is a problem, according to the study’s lead author, Joanna S. Zeiger, MS, PhD, of the Canna Research Foundation.

“Education regarding cannabis use, both its positive and adverse effects, should be discussed with patients, as well finding the safest route of administration,” she wrote.

Zeiger said the lack of physician discussion with patients about cannabis is particularly concerning in light of the high number of people with uncontrolled asthma choosing to smoke cannabis flower rather than use tinctures/oils or vaporizing the plant flower – something that could be easier on the lungs and less likely to exacerbate asthmatic conditions than smoking the weed.

Of the patients who had uncontrolled asthma, 25 per cent reported coughing from smoking cannabis. The study also found that a minority of the patients’ physicians inquired about their cannabis use and most patients preferred not to even talk about it with their doctor.

According to Zeiger, only one in five asked said they had used cannabis, including THC and CBD products, within the previous two weeks before taking the survey, although half of the patients smoked cannabis flower, she said.

Patients were asked to report on 10 positive subjective effects and nine adverse subjective effects. The most common positive cannabis effects reported were help with sleep, less pain, and calming effects.

The most common adverse effects were increased appetite, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating. Asthma patients who are current cannabis users, particularly long-term cannabis users, reported positive effects more than 50 per cent of the time, while the highest proportion of adverse effects was less than 20 per cent, and also was reported by long-term cannabis users.

The study did find current cannabis users tended to have a more liberal attitude toward cannabis use than non-cannabis users, and also scored higher on cannabis knowledge.

When the researchers compared current asthma patients not using cannabis and those currently using cannabis, similar experiences were observed for whether the asthma symptoms were controlled or uncontrolled, and quality of life and frequency of asthma exacerbations were similar in both groups.

As for why they used cannabis, 26 per cent said it was for medicinal reasons; 34 per cent said it was for fun; and 40 per cent said it was a mix of each.

One-third (33 per cent) said THC was their cannabinoid of choice, while 19 per cent said they preferred cannabidiol (CBD). Just shy of half (48 per cent) said they used both THC and CBD.

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