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Is It Safe to Use Cannabis During the Coronavirus Outbreak?

Throughout the United States legislators and county officials are announcing lockdowns and stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In many states, cannabis businesses have been deemed “essential services” for people during the COVID-19 crisis. If buying trends are any indication, people don’t want to be stuck at home without any. In some regions, sales are pushing 117 percent higher than average. But is it good to smoke cannabis given the current pandemic and the effect COVID-19 has on the lungs?

To get to the bottom of this question, I spoke to Michael Verbora, M.D., an assistant professor at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada and chief medical officer at Aleafia Health.

Does Cannabis Affect COVID-19?

The rush on dispensaries may come at no surprise. Cannabis is medicinal for many and a calming way to pass the time for the rest. It’s also an interesting choice given the respiratory nature of the current pandemic. 

“There is no evidence that using cannabis can help or harm the coronavirus and its effects on human health,” Dr. Verbora said. 

However, inhalation is one of the most common ways people use cannabis and smoking can be problematic. “Smoking does cause airway irritation and is associated with increased risks of bronchitis,” he said. 

Bronchitis is a well-known side effect of cannabis smoke. It’s not uncommon for regular cannabis users to develop a cough, chest congestion and some chest pain. Although, these symptoms are usually temporary and often go away when you stop smoking. 

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. 

Verbora suggests sticking to other common consumption methods. “I would recommend refraining from smoking cannabis in general,” he said. “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.  

Using Cannabis For Symptom Relief

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,” Verbora said.

If you use cannabis to manage a chronic condition, you can continue to use it as you typically do.

“Many people use cannabis regularly for symptom management and they may continue to use it as medicine like all other medicines they take regularly,” Verbora said. “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 products that won’t aggravate or compromise your lungs.

“I think edibles or vaporizing cannabis are better methods of consumption,” Verbora said. “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.”

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