- Weed consumption can be a risk factor for COVID-19, even if marijuana use is moderate and infrequent, doctors warn.
- Marijuana, like tobacco, causes an inflammatory reaction in the lung even before the novel coronavirus can settle in and produce its own inflammatory response.
- Users are advised not to smoke during the health crisis, and inform their doctors of their marijuana behavior if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
If you think smoking a joint here and there to alleviate stress and anxiety during these troubled times is a good idea, you might want to reconsider. Even casual marijuana consumption is a risk factor for COVID-19 patients, doctors warn. Research already shows that the novel coronavirus is worse for smokers, and weed might be just as dangerous. The problem with smoking any substances is that they can cause inflammation in the lungs before the arrival of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that can result in the COVID-19 disease.
“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,” chief medical officer for the American Lung Association Dr. Albert Rizzo told CNN. “Now you have some airway inflammation, and you get an infection on top of it. So, yes, your chance of getting more complications is there.”
“Marijuana burns at a much, much lower temperature than a commercially made cigarette,” pulmonologist Dr. Mitchell Glass and spokesperson for the association said. “Because of that, the person is inhaling a certain amount of unburnt plant material.”
“So right off the bat, there are those patients who would be increasingly susceptible to having a bronchospasm or cough because they have a more sensitive airway,” he said.
Doctors warn of other marijuana-related issues that might complicate a COVID-19 case. Chronic marijuana users, like smokers, might develop a cough that could confuse doctors trying to diagnose patients. Coughing is a COVID-19 symptom, but it can be associated with all sorts of medical conditions. People who smoke weed regularly also run the risk of being admitted to the hospital with a confused state if mind. This could be an additional roadblock for doctors looking to determine whether the patient should be admitted or sent home.
“Now there’s a healthcare worker who is gowned, gloved, possibly in a hazmat suit trying to get through to you. These are people who are trying to decide if you should be going home, coming into the emergency room, or worst-case scenario, that you need to be put on a ventilator,” Glass said. “They want the person who’s agreeing and giving informed consent to be completely in control of their thought processes.”
Doctors advise COVID-19 patients to be honest about their weed consumption with healthcare workers to ensure a proper diagnosis. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) addressed COVID-19 implications for individuals with substance use disorders a few days ago, highlighting weed among the substances that can aggravate COVID-19. “Because it attacks the lungs, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape,” the report notes.
More Americans smoke weed than ever, CNN notes, including more people over the age of 65. The elderly are already at risk of developing COVID-19 complications, and many of them suffer from other medical conditions that could worsen their condition in case of an infection with the novel coronavirus.