The Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 1 in 13 people have asthma. Approximately 10 Americans die from the disease every day. Although asthma can affect anyone, it’s the leading chronic disease among children, and its economic cost in the U.S. alone is about $56 billion in medical expenses and lost work and school days.
Conventional treatments for asthma include allergy medicines to treat symptoms and corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and open airways — but these medications don’t work for everyone and can have severe side effects. Now, a new study aims to study whether cannabidiol (CBD) can be a safer and more effective treatment for the symptoms of asthma.
Details of the Study
The new study is a partnership between CIITECH, a U.K.-Israeli biotech startup devoted to cannabis research, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, home to some of the world’s most cutting-edge cannabis research. The project will be led by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam who is often called the “godfather of cannabis research” for his pioneering work studying the plant. For this study, Mechoulam will partner with Dr. Francesca Levi-Schaffer, a specialist in asthma research.
The project focuses on whether CBD, a non-psychoactive compound in cannabis that has documented anti-inflammatory properties, can inhibit the allergic responses that inflame airways and contribute to asthma attacks. Considerable private sector and academic research on cannabis has focused on the applications of CBD, THC, and combinations of these compounds for treating conditions such as epilepsy, pain, and cancer-related nausea, but research on the uses of CBD for asthma and other kinds of allergic diseases is limited.
Previous Research on CBD and Asthma is Limited but Looks Promising
A few studies, mostly in animal models, have shown that CBD can bind to natural endocannabinoid receptors on mast cells — the cells that are responsible for stimulating the release of histamines in response to allergens. These studies suggest that CBD can “damp down” the inflammatory response in those cells that produce symptoms such as difficulty breathing, itching, or skin eruptions.
Although relatively limited in scope, these studies also reveal that CBD may help reduce airway inflammation and support normal breathing in both asthma and other kinds of allergic diseases. The CIITECH-Hebrew University collaboration hopes to carry this research further with the aim of producing CBD-based medications for use in treating asthma and other inflammatory diseases worldwide.
New Study Brings Together Research Heavyweights
The U.K.- Israel collaboration brings together some of the most substantial resources for cannabis research in the world. The U.K. legalized CBD in 2016, allowing its sale and distribution throughout the country and online, and Israel leads the world in cannabis research. With supportive legislation and a high concentration of academic and biotech institutes willing to invest in all aspects of cannabis R&D, the country also grows and produces much of the cannabis used in research.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem hosts the Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabis Research, which Mechoulam heads. Previous research conducted at the center includes studies on the applications of CBD and other cannabis compounds for treating conditions including epilepsy, schizophrenia, type 2 diabetes, cancer and chronic pain. The center partners with a long list of other institutions and private biotech concerns like CIITECH from around the globe to conduct rigorous research on the medical applications of cannabis.
The CIITECH-Hebrew University project expects to release preliminary results in about six months. These findings may add substantial new support for the use of CBD in asthma and other allergic diseases — and for the applications of medical cannabis for an ever-growing list of health conditions.