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Cannabis & COPD

Cannabis and COPD
Photo by Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

Joint Opinions

Cannabis & COPD

Farmer Nikki Lastreto takes us along for the ride on her deeply personal health odyssey.

There is no doubt that my body has been trying to tell me something is wrong for a long time — many years, in fact. But it’s been just one of those things I always knew was a little bit off… and then went on with life. It kept happening, and after a while felt “normal” and not like an issue.

Such is my breath, the substance of life itself.

At times I grasp for air via a deep yawn as I try to push it into my lungs. It is rare my lungs feel truly “full” without the great effort of literally shoving the air down there. It is difficult to do any pranayama (yogic breathing exercises). These symptoms may sound crazy to many of you, and oddly familiar to others. Statistics say that 16 million Americans are affected by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, and millions more do not know they have it.

We take breathing for granted. It’s so natural, so essential, and yet so constant that we forget about it most of the time. As an avid cannabis smoker for 50-plus years, I admit to doing the ostrich thing and ignoring my lack of deep breathing as much as possible, afraid I’d have to stop performing my beloved joint rituals several times a day. I wasn’t so blind not to know that it may not have been the best thing for me to be in a heavily smoke-filled room, but when you are a cannabis judge for the Emerald Cup, certain sacrifices must be made.

Some days are better than others, and now that I observe patterns, I can see that some seasons are better as well. Spring and summer are the best, since I am outside in fresh air instead of the smoky stuffy rooms of autumn and winter, not to mention the fire season air we have far too often in California every summer and autumn.

The stubborn radical in me did not want to face up to facts. I was in denial, and was really more concerned about genetic heart issues than my lungs. So, when my cardiologist sent me for a pulmonary function test, I had to accept the result: I suffer from moderate COPD. For someone like me, this was like telling a dancer she was about to lose her feet. 

Looking back, however, it does make perfect sense that I have COPD. My mother was a heavy tobacco smoker, which always made breathing difficult for me as a child. Car rides with her were smoky torture, so I trained myself to be a shallow breather. For years, I was a swimmer, but that meant sucking in chlorine with every stroke, which often made me lose my voice. And I am sure it didn’t help that I have lived in cities with some of the worst air pollution in the world, such as Delhi, Beijing and Bangkok.

Even at home, our cabin is heated by a wood stove all winter long. Plus the affliction can be genetic. But what about cannabis, I wondered? How bad was smoking for my condition?

Smoking anything irritates the lungs, but in the case of cannabis, the damage is mostly from the heat of the smoke, as opposed to tobacco, which itself is cancer causing.

The doctor told me that any carcinogens would increase the scar tissue already forming on the base of my lungs. Smoking anything irritates the lungs, but in the case of cannabis, the damage is mostly from the heat of the smoke, as opposed to tobacco, which itself is cancer causing. The heated smoke can increase the mass of scar tissue on the pulmonary sacs, which in turn does not allow enough oxygen into the sac to be absorbed by the blood.  Hence the feeling of needing extra air, yawning a lot to get it, characterized by a lack of energy due to low oxygen.

OK, it finally all makes perfect sense and I am a realist. Yet, I am also an optimist and so cannot accept one major part of this disease. Chronic. I just cannot believe that it is incurable, that it is never going to go way. Cannabis teaches us to question authority — which is a large part of why it was/is illegal.

So as a serious stoner, naturally I believe in thinking beyond the box, and then some.

Via internet research and personal interviews, I discovered that I was not the only one determined to lick this supposedly chronic disease. Some studies have shown that a combination of CoQ10 and creatine supplements can improve breathing capabilities. Large daily doses of vitamin D are also thought to be beneficial. Exercise is very important to raise the heart beat and encourage deep breathing.

I also discovered that medical tests were proving that the cannabinoids in cannabis, which have strong anti-inflammatory properties, can treat respiratory illnesses. I already knew that certain terpenes in some cannabis cultivars are especially good as bronchial dilators as well. However, I had to accept that smoking remains inherently dangerous to respiratory health — but perhaps, in the future, a vaporizer could be OK.

Then, a friend claimed he had gotten rid of COPD by using heavy THC oil doses for a couple of months. In fact, we were smoking a joint as he told me this, and now he tells me he is much better in every way. And so, on May 9, I took the plunge and decided to make myself the guinea pig to prove it is possible to cure COPD.

First step was to stop smoking cannabis, which is huge for someone like me. Yet I am a cold-turkey kind of gal and can’t do anything halfway. I smoked my last joint ceremoniously with Swami, praying that abstinence from smoking joints would not be a forever thing for me.

My friend and wise woman Jude Thilman, owner of Dragonfly Dispensary, had suggested a regimen which I began immediately and intend to continue until I cure myself. Jude was aware that I need to continue to run a cannabis business and can’t be totally stoned out all day, hence she suggested I begin with microdoses. Starting at 8 a.m. daily, I micro-dose about 10 ml of very pure full-spectrum THC oil, having worked my way up to six times a day, with the final dose just before bedtime.

I quickly learned that my high tolerance from all the years of smoking made it easy for me to handle the oil. In fact, Jude was astounded by how I barely feel high from it. So I upped my doses just a bit, from the suggested “half a grain of rice” to the size of a healthy long-grain piece. The oil is so thick the delivery system is via a hypodermic sort of device (no needle involved though), so I am able to easily adjust the doses. I gently push a drop out of the tube onto a plastic knife because, as Jude suggested, it is easier to scrape it off with my tongue that way and then really lick the knife clean. Yes, it feels odd sucking on a knife, but it works!

Along with the THC oil, I take a high CBD alcohol tincture at least four times a day, primarily to reduce inflammation in the lungs, as well as an MCT oil based tincture infused with THCA for general healing. The oils and tinctures are all as pure as possible, made from flowers grown by farmers I trust.

As I write this, I am 23 days into the procedure and have noticed that I am not coughing up nearly as much phlegm in the mornings. I am probably more conscious of my breath simply because I am now aware of the COPD, so I cannot say it feels easier yet. I will honestly admit, however, that I really miss smoking joints with Swami. To make up for it, I am starting to eat some edibles for general mood enhancement.

I’ll continue with this clear THC oil for another week or so. When this tube is finished, I am considering switching to a darker oil which will be heavier all around, especially with THC. Whatever I switch to will need to be absolutely pure and made from flowers I trust. If cannabis is my doctor, I need to have faith in her.

In about two months, I’ll have another pulmonary function test to see if my condition has improved — unless I can tell just because I feel so much better. My goal is to be able to vaporize with flowers as soon as possible, and yet to be wise about my health at the same time.

Cannabis is more than my doctor: She is my sister and my friend, so certainly she won’t want me to abandon her. Praise the sacred plant — may she cure me and others!

TELL US, have you incorporated cannabis into the way you treat a chronic condition?

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