Earlier this month, CNN went to press with a claim that smoking cannabis during the COVID-19 pandemic can increase a user’s risk of severe complications from the virus. According to the article published by the often maligned 24-hour news channel, even occasionally smoking marijuana could make one more susceptible to the novel coronavirus.
"What happens to your airways when you smoke cannabis is that it causes some degree of inflammation, very similar to bronchitis, very similar to the type of inflammation that cigarette smoking can cause," pulmonologist Dr. Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association was quoted as saying in the article. "Now, you have some airway inflammation, and you get an infection on top of it.”
“So, yes, your chance of getting more complications [from smoking cannabis] is there," he continued.
Since the appearance of the novel coronavirus and the stay-at-home orders that followed shortly after that earlier this year, there’s been no scarcity of reports on the dangers of cannabis smoking — and other forms of ingestion. Adding to the confusing messaging during this time is the fact that anti-marijuana groups and others looking to push an agenda have stopped at nothing to muddy the waters.
Already angered over the push to deem pot shops as “essential businesses,” a move that not only has kept people working during the economic downturn associated with COVID-19 but one that has substantial harm reduction benefits, anti-cannabis advocates have turned the coronavirus into a definite talking point.
“Sorry: Pot shops not ‘essential businesses’ — and smoking boosts coronavirus risks,” wrote Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana on Twitter, a group that opposes legalization in any form. Others have similarly claimed that cannabis in any form could be a drain on the immune system, making it difficult for the body to fight back against COVID-19.
The PotNetwork spoke with Dr. Michael Verbora, an expert in cannabis medicine who is the Chief Medical Officer at Aleafia Health and a member of the medical faculty at McMaster University to try and break through the noise and learn what safety measures everyone should be taking during this global pandemic. He was able to break down the information in a way that was clear, concise, and free from an agenda.
According to Dr. Verbora, people who are prone to infections, those with autoimmune diseases, and the elderly are at a higher risk of contracting the virus and thus at a higher risk of complications should they be chronic smokers. “If you fit those categories and you've been a chronic smoker in the past, I would say that you have a higher risk once having the virus of potentially having a worse outcome with respect to lung pneumonia that's typically caused by COVID-19,” he said.
He stressed that when it comes to smoking, tobacco is most likely the worst irritant for the lungs. Cannabis, however, while nowhere near as harmful as tobacco can still cause problems. As Dr. Verbora noted, smoking cannabis can still cause a little bit of bronchitis or infections and inflammation of the lungs.
For anyone who is at risk or just overly worried during this time, Dr. Verbora did note that there are safer ways to consume cannabis, even for those who prefer ingestion through inhalation.
“Vaporizing is not known to cause bronchitis,” said Dr. Verbora, clarifying that users should make sure to use a pure product without any pesticides, heavy metals, or any other contaminants. “You can still inhale cannabis without having that bronchitis and using oils or edibles, and all of that would be completely fair game. That wouldn't affect your lungs or your airways.”
On another note, Dr. Verbora also cleared up the misconception that cannabis users, in general, may be more prone to the coronavirus due to the plant acting as an immunosuppressant, a talking point that has been working its way around anti-marijuana groups. While cannabinoids do work on the immune system’s CB2 receptors and theoretically different doses could lower or even boost a person’s immune fighting capabilities, in no way will cannabis do so enough to make one susceptible to COVID-19.
“There's no evidence whatsoever to say if you use cannabis that you're more prone to get a virus by any means,” said Dr. Verbora.
In the end, Dr. Verbora said his advice was simple, that there’s no science out there right now stating anyone should stop taking their medications in fear of the coronavirus — including cannabis.
“If you're using cannabis to help you sleep or to help you de-stress or to help you with chronic pain, avoiding medication and being in chronic pain or chronic insomnia, or a chronic stress state, that is going to affect you more,” he said.
“Just stick with whatever medicines you're using and wait for more science on them to validate stopping anything,” he continued, “because I don't think there will be any.”
Images: Dr. Michael Verbora, Man smoking cannabis