Cystic Fibrosis

Can Medical Marijuana help with Cystic Fibrosis symptoms? Read below to learn more. 

The United States is among the countries with the highest incidence of CF, with about 30,000 people currently living with the disease. Approximately 1 in 2,500 to 3,500 Caucasian babies are diagnosed with CF in the U.S. This ratio is much lower among African Americans at 1 in 17,000 births and for Asian Americans at 1 in 31,000. Approximately 1,000 new cases of cystic fibrosis are diagnosed each year in the U.S., with more than 75 percent being diagnosed by age 2.

Life expectancy for patients with CF has significantly increased in the past few years. The median age of survival is around 47 years, with many patients living into their 50s or 60s.

What is Cystic Fibrosis? 

Cystic fibrosis is a progressive genetic disease affecting the lungs, pancreas, and other organs. CF is a chronic disease that causes a build-up of thick, sticky mucus in the lungs, digestive tract, and other body areas. It is one of the most common chronic lung disorders in children and young adults and is life-threatening.

Approximately 40,000 children and adults in the United States have cystic fibrosis, which can affect people of any ethnicity or race. In people with CF, mutations in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene cause the CFTR protein to stop working correctly to help move chloride, a component of salt, to the cell surface. 

What are the symptoms?

Any baby born in the United States is tested for Cystic Fibrosis shortly after birth as part of newborn screening. Finding CF early is essential to start treatment immediately, which can help delay or prevent complications. Some people with CF show signs of the condition soon after birth, although symptoms might not be seen until adulthood in milder cases.

These are the most common symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis:

  • Thick mucus clogs in organs, such as the lungs, pancreas, and intestines
  • Sinusitis
  • The fingers and toes club due to less oxygen in the blood
  • Lung Collapse
  • Coughing up blood
  • Enlargement of the right side of the heart due to pressure in the lungs
  • Abdominal pain
  • Excess gas in the intestines
  • Rectal prolapse
  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatitis
  • Gallstones
  • Persistent Diarrhea
  • Foul-smelling or greasy stools
  • Frequent pneumonia, sinus or lung infections
  • salty-tasting skin
  • Persistent cough, often with thick mucus or blood
  • wheezing or shortness of breath
  • nasal polyps 
  • poor growth or weight gain in childhood
  • male infertility

Risk Factors for Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disorder in which a person with CF has both parents pass the altered gene to them. The birth of a child with CF is often a surprise if there is no family history of CF. However, cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease. Those with cystic fibrosis have inherited two copies of the defective CF gene, and both parents must have one copy of the defective gene. People with one copy of the defective CF gene are carriers, so each time two carriers have a child, the chances are:

  • 25 percent chance the child will have CF
  • 50 percent chance the child will be a carrier but won’t have CF
  • 25 percent chance the child will not be a carrier or CF

Diagnosis of CF

Many cases of cystic fibrosis are found during newborn screening. In addition to a physical exam, tests for CF typically include a sweat test to measure the amount of salt present. Other tests may include:

  • Chest X-rays, ultrasound, and CT scans
  • Blood tests
  • Lung function tests
  • Sputum cultures
  • Stool tests

Treatments for Cystic Fibrosis

An early diagnosis and an effective treatment plan can improve survival and quality of life. When possible, patients should receive monitoring and care at a specialty clinic. While there is no cure for CF, treatment goals are to control symptoms, prevent complications, and slow progression.

Lung issue management may involve:

  • Physical therapy
  • Regular exercises
  • Medicines to thin mucus and help breathing
  • Antibiotics to fight infections
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs

Bowel and nutritional issue management may include:

  • A diet high in protein and calories
  • Pancreatic enzymes are taken with every meal
  • Vitamin supplements, particularly vitamins A, D, E, and K
  • Treatments for tough stools

Ivacaftor, lumacaftor, tezacaftor, and elexacaftor are medicines that help to treat CF.

  • They improve the function of the defective genes that cause Cystic Fibrosis.
  • Ninety percent of patients with CF and eligible for one or more of these medicines.
  • They help break up the buildup of thick mucus in the lungs. 

At-home care and monitoring should include the following:

  • Avoid smoke, dust, dirt, household chemicals, and mold or mildew.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially for infants and children in hot weather.
  • Exercise up to three times each week. 
  • Clear mucus or secretions from the airways. Patients must do this one to four times daily. Patients, families, and caregivers must learn about chest percussion and postural drainage.
  • Contact with other (non-family) people with CF is not recommended, as they can pass along infections.

Can Medical Cannabis Help? 

The recommended MMJ consumption options for CF patients:

  • Edibles (gummies, candy, brownies) 
  • Pills, Capsules, and Tablets
  • Powdered Cannabis Supplements
  • Transdermal (topical) Patches 
  • Tinctures or other Concentrates

Cystic fibrosis connects with many of our body’s systems, including the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS uses cannabinoids to manage various functions influencing the quality of life, including appetite, nausea, inflammation, pain, and mood.

A recent study published in the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics found that CF patients display lower levels of endocannabinoids. Researchers proposed that CFTR may be involved in endocannabinoid synthesis. Increasing cannabinoid levels through cannabis use could provide relief for cystic fibrosis symptoms. However, CF patients should avoid smoking and talk with a doctor before starting any cannabis treatments. 

Connecticut and Pennsylvania are the only states with cystic fibrosis as a qualifying condition. However, most states have chronic pain or illness, nausea, and other CF symptoms as qualifying conditions. In addition, doctors in most legal states have the discretion to prescribe medical marijuana if they believe it would help relieve the symptoms of their condition.

Last Updated: July 25, 2023

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