Are Cannabinoids Effective Therapy for Those with COPD?

InMed Researching Use of Cannabinoids for COPD

Dear Dr. Mahler:

I have been reading a lot about the use of marijuana as a treatment for COPD. What is the science behind cannabinoids as a possible therapy? I was diagnosed with COPD about five years ago. My pulmonary doctor has told me that my condition is “severe.” She has recently changed my inhaler to Stiolto which has helped my breathing, but I still cannot do all the things that I want. I completed pulmonary rehabilitation 2 years ago, and go 2-3 times a week for maintenance. I live in Colorado and can use marijuana products legally. Thanks.

Gay from Fort Collins, CO

Dear Gay,

Here is a brief description of the science of marijuana. Hopefully, it is easy to understand.

Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that are the active parts of marijuana. They alter release of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters relay signals between nerve cells (see diagram below).  Psychoactive drugs like marijuana exert their effects by altering the actions of some neurotransmitter systems. The primary psychoactive compound in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (abbreviated THC).

Diagram whereby cannabinoids alter neurotramsmitter release in the brain

Diagram of two nerve cells. On the left, neurotransmitters are released and cross the space to bind to receptors on another nerve cell.


There are two known cannabinoid receptors called CB1 and CB2. CB1 is found mainly in the brain (in the limbic system where pleasure and pain are experienced). CB2 receptors are found in the immune system with high numbers in the spleen (an organ in the abdomen). CB2 receptors are responsible for the anti-inflammatory and possibly other therapeutic effects seen in animals.

InMed Pharmaceuticals is a pharmaceutical company located in Vancouver,
British Columbia, Canada, that specializes in developing novel therapies through the research and development of cannabinoids. It began its COPD program in June 2015. Research has shown that THC can dilate breathing tubes (bronchodilation) for up to two hours after use. Additional research shows that cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting two inflammatory enzymes (COX-1 and COX-2).

Cannabinoids are active part of marijuana plants.

Marijuana plant

Gay – as you have COPD, I advise against smoking marijuana which could be harmful for your lungs. Certainly, you can choose other options such as mixing marijuana with food.
Hopefully, future research will provide more information as to benefits of cannabinoids for relief of breathing difficulty.
Best wishes,
Donald A. Mahler, M.D.