While many of us may be making the most of the (so far) sun-filled summer, this time of year can be challenging for those who suffer with hay fever. Spring and summertime can be the perfect time for making memories outside, but those with hay fever often have to think twice before wandering outdoors or prepare for watery eyes, sneezing fits and congestion.
It’s estimated that around 1 in 4 people in the UK have hay fever, making it one of the most common allergies. Hay fever season typically stretches from March all the way through to the end of September, which means that millions of people across the country can be burdened with symptoms for over half of the year! But while many people turn to traditional antihistamines for relief from hay fever, others are wondering whether cannabis could help.
Sure, we hear a lot of funny stories about the supposed benefits of cannabis, but the fact is this plant has significant therapeutic properties. But could these properties really extend to helping with hay fever? Let’s take a look at what we know.
The many faces of cannabis
Cannabis is an incredibly complex plant containing thousands of active compounds, including over a hundred cannabinoids in addition to terpenes, flavonoids and much more. There should be no surprise, then, that this plant has a wide range of therapeutic properties – and perhaps even the ability to help with the irritating and sometimes debilitating symptoms of hay fever.
Cannabinoids are without a doubt the most well-known cannabis compounds with CBD and THC being the most well-researched. In recent years, evidence has been gradually building to suggest that these compounds – and particularly CBD – have impressive anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and antioxidative properties, among others. Some of these properties may, in theory, be useful for those tackling hay fever. However, there has been little research in this particular area.
What does the evidence say?
While studies into the effects of cannabis on hay fever are pretty scarce, there have been a number of studies which have tested cannabis and CBD for their potential in symptoms such as airway obstruction, as well as their effects on immune responses.
Evidence for the potential anti-allergy effects of cannabis and its derivatives include a number of animal studies. For example, a 2013 study assessed the effects of CBD in guinea pigs that had been administered an antigen to contract their throat muscles. The researchers found that CBD reduced airway obstruction, suggesting it “may have beneficial effects in the treatment of obstructive airway disorders. These findings could also make CBD a substance of interest in the management as hay fever, which can cause the airways to narrow, making it more difficult to breathe.
Similar results were seen in a rat study of allergic asthma in 2019. CBD treatment, regardless of dose, was found to decrease airway hyperresponsiveness and static lung elastance and fibrosis reduced with higher doses.
In 2015, another study aimed to understand the relationship between the mediation of CB1 receptors and mast cells – cells that are responsible for releasing histamines, the natural chemicals that cause the symptoms of hay fever. The researchers noted that “cannabinoids are broadly immunosuppressive, and their potential as anti-inflammatory agents is supported by in vitro and in vivo studies.” Particularly noteworthy are the findings that cannabis constituents and endocannabinoids can suppress the release of mast cell pro-inflammatory mediators, in vitro.
The authors of the 2015 study concluded that, while their results were far from conclusive, activation of CB1 receptors may reduce the express rate of mast cells which may result in reduced histamine release. Still, more research is needed in this area if we are to fully understand the role of cannabis and its derivatives in the release of histamines.
Can cannabis cause hay fever?
While there may be a slowly growing body of evidence to imply that some cannabis compounds may be useful in the management of some hay fever symptoms, it is also worth considering whether cannabis itself actually causes hay fever. The fact is, cannabis is a pollen-bearing plant which may prompt rhinitis (hay fever) in some people. Other people may be specifically allergic to cannabis, with exposure prompting common allergic responses such as nasal congestion, itchy eyes, and sneezing; however, (thankfully) this is believed to be relatively uncommon.
To conclude, our understanding of cannabis’s potential anti-hay fever properties remains underdeveloped; however, the current evidence does suggest that further research in this area may be prompted. So, while it may be too early to recommend lighting up a joint next time your hay fever flares up – watch this space.