Not all U.S. states have issued emergency orders to shelter-in-place. But, along the east and west coasts, legislators and county officials are quickly escalating quarantines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Amidst the hustle and bustle, one industry is struggling to keep products in stock and workers on the floor: cannabis.
In many states and counties, cannabis businesses have been deemed “essential services” for people during the COVID-19 crisis. And if buying trends are any indication, people don’t want to be stuck at home without any. But, when sales in some regions are pushing 117 percent higher than average, you have to ask—is it good to smoke cannabis with coronavirus?
To get to the bottom of this question, we chatted with Dr. Michael Verbora, MD, MBA, and medical cannabis expert.
Cannabis & Coronavirus: Is It A Good Idea?
In Montreal, reporters snapped pictures as lines gathered outside of local cannabis retailers. Despite shelter-in-place and social distancing recommendations, some shops were still attracting crowds of shoppers hoping to stock up before hunkering down.
For many in the industry, the rush on dispensaries comes as no surprise; cannabis is medicinal for many and a calming way to pass the time for the rest. But, it’s also an interesting choice given the nature of the current pandemic. COVID-19 is, for the most part, an aggressive respiratory infection.
As any care provider knows, inhalation is one of the most common ways that consumers enjoy cannabis. Prior to COVID, pre-rolls, concentrates, and dried flower were among the most popular products in cannabis retail stores.
According to Dr. Michael Verbora, the true answer to this question is, more or less, unknown.
“There is no evidence that using cannabis can help or harm the coronavirus and its effects on human health,” he says. And he knows his stuff. Dr. Verbora is an Assistant Professor at McMaster University and also Chief Medical Officer at Aleafia Health, a company that designs cannabis health and wellness products. He’s also a cannabinoid expert, who’s spoken on medical cannabis before the European Union Parliament.
Yet, while unknown isn’t necessarily good nor bad, Verbora does urge caution with smoking. “Smoking,” he explains, “does cause airway irritation and is associated with increased risks of bronchitis.”
Bronchitis, which is inflammation of the airways, is a well-known side effect of cannabis smoke. It’s not uncommon for regular consumers to develop a cough, chest congestion, and some chest pain. Although, these symptoms are usually temporary and often go away when you stop smoking. When a respiratory flu pandemic is on the loose, it’s safe to say that these symptoms are ones worth avoiding.
There are also concerns that cigarette smokers may have a higher risk of developing severe coronavirus symptoms than those who don’t smoke. Cannabis smoke can be irritating and contains some of the same toxins, but when it comes to coronavirus, it’s unclear whether or not a history of smoking cannabis has the same effect.
Regardless, Dr. Verbora recommends sticking to other common consumption methods. “I would recommend refraining from smoking cannabis in general,” he says, “There are safer options such as vaporizing or using edibles that don’t risk airway harms.” Tinctures, beverages, capsules, and topicals are other options to consider.
Is It Safe to Smoke Cannabis When You’re Sick?
Many people use medical cannabis for relief from pain, tension, and severe medical conditions. But, it’s wise to avoid smoking if you or a patient begin to notice respiratory symptoms like cough, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.
“If you are sick with respiratory symptoms you probably should avoid smoking anything,” says Dr. Verbora, “which includes cannabis.” Common sense, right?
But, what about using an edible or another cannabis product to ease symptoms?
“Many people use cannabis regularly for symptom management and they may continue to use it as medicine like all other medicines they take regularly,” explains Dr. Verbora. “Again, there is no evidence it will make things better or worse. Each individual should pay attention to how they feel with and without it and make a decision for themself.”
In the meantime, it may be better to stick to other products that won’t risk aggravating or compromising the lungs. If consumers ask about it at the dispensary counter, Dr. Verbora has some excellent advice:
“I think edibles or vaporizing cannabis are better methods of consumption,” he says. “This is generally advised even without a pandemic that affects airways. Those interacting with cannabis consumers should always educate on harm reduction techniques for using cannabis.”