Even in the face of the new coronavirus, people need their weed. In fact, cannabis dispensaries are considered an “essential” business in several states and are still selling cannabis, often prioritizing medical cannabis patients.
But, considering that both inhaling cannabis and the new coronavirus can take a toll on your lungs, you might be wondering if it’s safe to smoke weed right now. The truth is that everyone is different and, with so little research, it’s hard to know what might be right or wrong in any individual case. So, SELF spoke to a few experts to learn as much as we could.
Smoking anything—including cannabis—should not be your first choice right now.
The first thing to know is that “we don’t have a lot of data,” Kathryn Melamed, M.D., pulmonary and critical care physician at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, tells SELF. “This is all very new and we’re learning as we go.”
So, we don’t have any research specifically on how the new coronavirus might affect those who regularly smoke cannabis. But we can get some clues from early research on those who developed COVID-19 and smoked cigarettes, Jordan Tishler, M.D., medical cannabis expert at InhaleMD in Boston, tells SELF.
For instance, in a meta-analysis published last month in the Archives of Academic Emergency Medicine, researchers pooled data from previous studies that contained information on nearly 77,000 patients. They found that smoking cigarettes was one of a few underlying health conditions found frequently in coronavirus patients along with high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, diabetes, and kidney disease. And both the CDC and WHO list smokers as being high-risk for severe symptoms from a COVID-19 infection.
That’s not totally surprising because the effects of smoking on the lungs are well-established. We know that smoking does damage to the elastic tissues of the lungs, which affects their ability to actually ventilate and allow you to breathe, Dr. Melamed explains. It also causes damage to the cilia, the little hair-like projections that line and help clean the lungs, which makes it harder for them to get rid of particles you breathe in normally that can cause further issues.
In the long-term, that kind of damage leads to COPD and related issues, like emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and also predisposes you to developing infections like pneumonia, Dr. Melamed says.
And even in the short-term, “you could imagine that if smoking cigarettes or marijuana was leading to any sort of lung damage or predisposing you to lung injury, that would put you at some increased risk of poor outcomes if infected with coronavirus,” Dr. Melamed says. But, again, our understanding of how this might affect your risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms is still developing.
So how does smoking cigarettes compare to smoking cannabis? “Generally speaking, we do not see the same pattern of lung disease in patients who only smoke cannabis compared to tobacco,” Dr. Melamed says. Part of that may be due to the difference in the amount of smoking that occurs in those two groups, as well as the amount of carcinogenic compounds found in cigarettes. Overall, there isn’t a lot of data, but the evidence we have so far suggests that smoking cannabis poses much less of a risk to your health, SELF explained previously.
Still, smoking cannabis is still not the ideal way to consume it at any time, Stacia Woodcock, PharmD, cannabis pharmacist at Curaleaf, tells SELF. Even if there’s minimal risk to your long-term health associated with smoking cannabis, just the simple act of smoking can cause lung irritation, wheezing, and coughing. And if you have asthma or any chronic lung disease, you might find that smoking weed aggravates or triggers your symptoms.