Often abbreviated simply as CF, cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition. You are born with the condition, and it is impossible to catch it later in life. This is an inherited disease that causes sticky mucus to build up in the digestive system and lungs. Unfortunately, it is a progressive genetic disease which results in persistent lung infections. Over time, it reduces your ability to breathe.
According to the cystic fibrosis foundation, over 30,000 people are living with CF in the United States, from an estimated worldwide total of 70,000. Here are a few more cystic fibrosis statistics:
- Around 1,000 new cases are diagnosed annually.
- Up to 75% of people with CF are diagnosed by the age of two.
- Over half of the CF population is aged 18+.
- An estimated 4% of the population carries the faulty gene that causes CF, generally without any knowledge or awareness.
Although it is not a terminal illness, cystic fibrosis can significantly shorten a person’s lifespan. As there are no known cures, it is only natural that sufferers are seeking alternative treatments. Recent research on CBD suggests that it could potentially alleviate some of the symptoms.
Cystic Fibrosis Symptoms
As CF is a complex disease, the symptoms, as well as their severity, range significantly depending on each individual. Factors such as the age of the person when the diagnosis was made also impacts their health and the course taken by the disease. If you have CF, there is a much greater risk of developing lung infections, as the mucus that sticks to the lungs enables germs to multiply.
Mucus buildup in the pancreas also halts the absorption of food and essential nutrients. The result is poor growth due to malnutrition. If the mucus sticks to the liver, it can block the bile duct which results in liver disease. Typical CF symptoms include:
- Constant chest and lung infections.
- Problems growing and putting on weight.
- Constipation or diarrhea.
- A bowel obstruction in newborn babies where surgery is usually required.
- Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Diagnosis, Outlook, and Traditional Treatment Methods
Every American state screens newborn babies for CF as a routine course of action. Treatment can begin immediately upon diagnosis. It is a genetic disease because CF patients have inherited two copies of the defective cystic fibrosis gene – at least one copy from each parent. You are a ‘carrier’ if you have one copy of the gene in question and, when a pair of carriers have a child, there is a 50% chance that the baby is a carrier, but does not have CF. There is a 25% chance that their child will have CF and a 25% chance the child is not a carrier and doesn’t have CF.
There are several screening tests used to diagnose babies with CF. One such test involves checking a blood sample for elevated levels of immunoreactive trypsinogen (IRT), which is a chemical released by the pancreas. As a newborn’s IRT levels can be high after a difficult delivery, other tests are usually required however.
When a baby is two weeks old, a physician may conduct a sweat test by applying a sweat-producing chemical to a small part of the skin. They collect the sweat and check to see if it has more salt than usual.
Sadly, the outlook for CF patients is not favorable. Although it is no longer classified as a terminal illness, cystic fibrosis patients only live to an average age of slightly over 37. As the disease is better understood and treatment options improve, however, the percentage of CF patients living beyond the age of 50 is increasing significantly.
In Ireland, a news story broke in 2014 and announced that a woman born with CF celebrated her 76th birthday. This is one of the longest life expectancies recorded to date.
The available treatments are designed to control the symptoms, reduce complications and ensure it is easier to live with the condition. Aside from chest physical therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, and surgical procedures, the following medications are offered to CF patients:
- Antibiotics to prevent and treat lung infections.
- Mucus-thinning drugs to help bring up mucus.
- Oral pancreatic enzymes to enable the digestive tract to absorb more nutrients.
- Anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling in the airways to the lungs.
With the usual side effects associated with pharmaceuticals causing problems for CF patients, however, it is only natural for some of them to look in another direction, and some believe that CBD is the answer.
How Could CBD Help Cystic Fibrosis?
Proponents of marijuana claim that it CBD is capable of alleviating a wide range of symptoms, including:
- Chronic Pain: Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD act in the brain and spinal cord to suppress chronic and acute pain, which are typical CF symptoms.
- Coughing: Endocannabinoids activate the same receptors in the brain as THC, which could potentially reduce irritation and coughing.
- Appetite loss & nausea: CF patients sometimes cough so vigorously that they vomit blood and are unable to keep their food down. The result is malnutrition and an immune system that is further compromised. THC in particular possibly increases your appetite while decreasing nausea.
- Inflammation: Cannabis is a known anti-inflammatory, and because cannabinoid receptors are in the lungs, consuming cannabinoids such as CBD and THC could reduce respiratory inflammation.
Studies on How CBD Possibly Impacts Cystic Fibrosis
A 2002 report by Ester Fride, published in the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics, was the first to research the possibility of using weed to treat cystic fibrosis. Fride wrote that the primary findings show how fatty acid imbalance was one of the primary factors in the pathogenesis of the condition.
According to Fride, this imbalance potentially led to significant manifestations of cystic fibrosis including chronic lung inflammation and pancreatic disease. Other symptoms include malnutrition, nausea, pain, and diarrhea. She concluded by saying, “the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids include the potential to counteract each of these conditions.”
Most research to date has taken place on rodents. A prime example is a 2011 study by Bregman and Fride, published in the Journal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacy. Researchers found that the endocannabinoid function of mice with CF was impaired, with infertility being one of the key symptoms in males.
Male mice with CF were treated with THC daily from when they were seven days old, until they reached the 28-day mark. The researchers discovered that these mice were fully fertile and produced offspring numbers comparable with healthy male mice.
Final Thoughts on CBD and Cystic Fibrosis
When you bear in mind that research into CBD’s effects on CF only really began less than two decades ago, great strides have been made. It is believed that cannabis treatments help the body’s endocannabinoid system to normalize and work towards homeostasis, which causes improvements in cystic fibrosis symptoms.
The list of potential benefits in regard to CBD oil for Cystic Fibrosis include increased appetite, decreased pain, reduced levels of nausea, and reduced inflammation. Typically, CBD extracts contain minimal amounts of THC which means they are legal in most states.
Otherwise, you need to live in one of the 29 states (plus D.C) where marijuana is legal for recreational or medicinal purposes. Time will tell whether CBD is an effective cystic fibrosis treatment but the nature of the disease means that time is one thing patients don’t have.