The respiratory system is designed to deliver oxygen to tissues in order to help them perform their functions. While many individuals view the respiratory system as simply being composed of the lungs, it is a very complex system with numerous components. The respiratory system includes:
Respiratory conditions range from mildly common conditions such as the common cold to very serious and life-threatening disorders and diseases like cancer. These conditions affect the organs of the body that make gas exchange possible and can be broadly arranged in four different classes of conditions.
Numerous drugs can affect the functioning of the respiratory system.
The damage that occurs to the respiratory system from smoking tobacco products cannot be understated. The effects of smoking tobacco progress relatively slowly and increase in severity over time. The respiratory system attempts to clean itself by trapping dirt and other foreign bodies, such as microbes, and then removing them through the cilia via mucus or other methods. So-called “smoker’s cough” is often a result of the lungs attempting to rid themselves of impurities associated with tobacco products. Over time, these products take their toll, and many of the carcinogens cannot be removed completely.
People who continue to smoke tobacco products lose elasticity in the walls of the system, and many of the small structures within the system rupture or become thickened. Toxic chemicals in cigarettes and other tobacco products number literally in the hundreds, and eventually, these substances lead to an increase in the risk of getting certain respiratory conditions and the risk of developing numerous forms of cancer by changing the cellular structure of the tissues.
The major respiratory conditions associated with smoking tobacco products include the following:
Various forms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): COPD is a progressive condition that interferes with a person’s ability to breathe. These conditions can include emphysema, a chronic condition that disrupts the functioning of the air sacs or alveoli in the lungs, and bronchitis, which is inflammation of the bronchi in the lungs. It has been suggested that 80 percent of individuals with COPD developed the condition as a result of smoking tobacco products.
Asthma: This condition results in difficulty breathing. Potential causes include pollutants in the air, cigarette smoke, and other issues. Smoking makes asthma worse.
Lung infections: There is an increased probability that individuals will get lung infections like pneumonia.
Lung cancer: Research suggests that 80 percent of all lung cancer cases are somehow related to cigarette smoking. Less than 15 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer are still alive five years after their diagnosis.
Other forms of cancer: These can include cancer of the larynx, trachea, and pharynx.
These are typically chronic conditions that slowly develop but become progressive and worsen at an accelerated rate. Interestingly, many of these conditions can be alleviated significantly by simply quitting use of tobacco products.
Opioids drugs are a large class of prescription analgesic (pain-relieving) drugs and some illicit drugs. Opioids have received quite a bit of media attention due to a rise in overdoses and recent stories of abuse of prescription opioids.
Opioids are central nervous system depressant drugs that reduce the activity of the neurons in the brain and spinal cord. This central nervous system depressant action also affects the functioning of the respiratory system by slowing down a person’s breathing rate. The actions also result in their medical uses as analgesics and contribute to their abuse as they produce a reduction in a person’s experience of pain, feelings of relaxation, and euphoria.
In most cases, opioid drugs are not smoked. They are taken in pill form, ground up and snorted, or mixed with liquid and injected. Nonetheless, due to their significant ability to suppress breathing, chronic use of these drugs can lead to respiratory issues. Some of the issues include:
Over the long-term, there is the increased risk of developing problems that are associated with reduced oxygen delivery to various organs. Decreased levels of oxygen delivered to certain organs, like the brain, liver, and heart, can result in damage. In some cases, if oxygen is cut off to certain areas of these organs, the tissue will die.
Chronic use of opiate drugs also increases the risk of the development of all forms of cancer, including different cancers of the respiratory system.
Nonetheless, chronic use and abuse of alcohol is known to increase the risk for the development of numerous infectious diseases and disorders, numerous forms of cancer, and other health issues associated with poor nutrition and a lack of attention to self-care. When alcohol is combined with other drugs, such as tobacco products, the risk for health issues is increased even further.
Cocaine is a very harmful central nervous system stimulant that increases the firing rates of the neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Its use results in a constriction of the veins, arteries, and capillaries in the vascular system, and it can lead to hardening of the cellular walls in organs like the lungs and death of cells in the respiratory system.
Smoking cocaine can lead to:
While researchers suspect that smoking crack does increase the risk for lung cancer, the evidence remains inconclusive at the time of this writing.
Although smoking cocaine is far more detrimental to the health of the respiratory system, individuals who snort cocaine can also develop various issues, including:
There have been numerous studies that have investigated the effects of smoking cannabis products on the respiratory system. As recreational use of marijuana becomes legalized in many states, researchers will continue to look at the findings from the data, which remain mixed. The overall findings suggest the following:
Again, the evidence remains mixed. At the time of this writing, much of the research is inconclusive. It is suggested that very heavy, chronic smokers of cannabis products are at a greater risk to develop respiratory problems; however, the exact definition of “heavy, chronic smokers” may vary from study to study.
There may be some signs that can be used to determine if someone is developing or has developed a respiratory issue. Some of the signs include:
The exact treatment for a respiratory condition will be contingent on the type of condition that is being addressed. Initially, there will be some type of a clinical examination to determine what the problem is and then the particular intervention will be decided upon.
Interventions can include medications, respiratory physiotherapy (working on inflating the lungs fully, breathing properly, etc.), and various forms of ventilatory support using suction or other methods to clean the airways can be used. Some individuals may require oxygen if their condition is advanced.
Obviously, if a respiratory condition is believed to be caused by substance abuse, the individual would need to be involved in a recovery program that focuses on abstinence and treatment of their substance use disorder. Only a commitment to abstinence from drugs and/or alcohol can eventually help to counteract some of the changes that may have occurred as a result of ongoing drug abuse. This means these individuals must be involved in long-term recovery programs.