Does Smoking Cannabis Increase Coronavirus Risk?

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a substantial amount of panic, with millions of cases of infection reported worldwide. The final death toll could exceed the one million mark, and it has already had a severely negative impact on the global economy. Moreover, countless individuals who get the virus and survive may experience severe lung damage.

One of the terrifying aspects of the condition is the lack of information we have. As a result, opinions on the overall severity of the crisis diverge massively. For some, it is a complete catastrophe that means we all have to huddle in bunkers until we find an effective vaccine. For others, it is massively overblown. In many American states, for example, there is a growing desire to return to ‘business as usual.’

The lack of knowledge also means a greater spread of misinformation. Spend enough time on the Internet, and you will come across all manner of crackpot conspiracy theories as to how the virus originated. You may also see websites claiming to offer ‘cures’ for this disease.

At Wayofleaf, you won’t find any of that. We’re proponents of cannabis and have already written at length on how it could help people in certain situations. In another article on marijuana and the Coronavirus, we suggested that it may potentially help alleviate some of the anxiety you may feel right now.

The fact is, countless people will likely turn to weed to help them relax and feel less stressed out. We will probably see a higher number of first-time users. However, it is essential to remember that COVID-19 is a disease that severely affects breathing, among other things. With this in mind, perhaps it isn’t the best idea to take up smoking at this precise moment!

What Damage Can COVID-19 Do?

Like other respiratory diseases, the Coronavirus is capable of causing long-term lung damage. In some cases, it can cause complications to the lungs, such as pneumonia, ARDS, or acute respiratory distress syndrome. If a patient has pneumonia, the lungs are filled with fluid and become inflamed. The ensuing breathing problems could be so severe that the patient must go to the hospital and receive oxygen. If things get really bad, the individual could end up on a ventilator.

For those who have COVID-19 and develop pneumonia, the disease tends to damage both lungs. Fluid fills the air sacs in the lungs. The patient struggles to breathe as they don’t get enough oxygen, and they also develop symptoms such as a dry cough. Those who require hospital treatment but survive could still have breathing difficulties for several months.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is another concern. As the Coronavirus pneumonia progresses, more fluid leaks from tiny blood vessels and fills other air sacs. The patient experiences severe shortness of breath and could suffer from ARDS, a form of lung failure. Individuals with this condition often require a ventilator as they can’t breathe on their own. ARDS is potentially fatal, and survivors may have long-term pulmonary scarring.

Who Is Most at Risk?

As we receive more data about the virus, it is abundantly clear that individual sections of the population are at higher risk than others. What’s clear is that the older you are, the higher the mortality risk to an enormous degree.

Data from Italy, China, Spain, and South Korea is telling. Between 13% and 20% of people aged 80+ who caught the virus died soon afterward. The rate falls slightly in people aged 70-79, but dwindles precipitously thereafter, as this graph demonstrates:

Who Is Most at Risk?

Healthy individuals aged 50 and under have little to worry about it seems, in relative terms at least. For reference, the average risk of mortality for females aged 40-49 in any given year ranges from 0.05% to 0.1%. It is only slightly higher for males in that age bracket. In the graph above, the COVID-19 death rate is between 0.08% in South Korea to 0.4% in China and Italy. Also, many of those who unfortunately passed away had underlying medical conditions.

According to the CDC, individuals at the highest level of risk include those with:

  • Chronic lung disease
  • Moderate to severe asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease
  • Chronic kidney disease and undergoing dialysis
  • Severe obesity

Those who are immunocompromised are also at a higher risk. It seems clear already that smoking is likely to cause more problems if you contract COVID-19. Let’s find out more.

What Smoking Marijuana Does to the Lungs

A meta-analysis by Emami et al., published in the Archives of Academic Emergency Medicine in March 2020, looked at the prevalence of underlying diseases in patients hospitalized with COVID-19. The researchers looked at data involving almost 77,000 patients from 10 articles. They found that smoking tobacco cigarettes was one of the few underlying health conditions frequently discovered in patients. Others included kidney disease, COPD, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

We know that smoking damages the elastic tissues of the lungs. This process adversely impacts their ability to ventilate and your ability to breathe. Smoking cannabis doesn’t appear to have the same pattern of lung disease. There are several reasons for this fact. For example, marijuana joints have significantly fewer carcinogens than tobacco cigarettes. Also, the average tobacco smoker uses far more cigarettes. Smokers commonly consume 20-40 cigarettes in a day. You won’t find many weed users who use 20+ joints!

It only takes a few cigarettes to cause signs of lung damage within a matter of days. While it isn’t as bad when you smoke weed, you still compromise the lungs. Cannabis burns at a significantly lower temperature than tobacco cigarettes. As a consequence, a user inhales some unburnt plant matter.

Right away, you have a more sensitive airway and make it more likely that your lungs become irritated. A dry cough is one of the most noteworthy symptoms of COVID-19. Those who smoke cannabis, particularly new users, could also suffer from such a cough. As such, it is potentially indistinguishable from the Coronavirus symptom. The last thing you need is to make the diagnosis more difficult!

Cannabis Use Is on the Rise

With medical legalization in 33 states and recreational marijuana legal in 11 states plus D.C., the drug is more widely available than ever. Data from 2018 suggested that over 43 million Americans aged 12+ admitted using weed in the previous 12 months. There is also a claim that up to four million people in the U.S. have Marijuana Use Disorder. The percentage is lower than addiction rates to alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine, but it is certainly an issue worth raising.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) released a statement saying that COVID-19 was an especially severe threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana. One significant trend is a steep rise in the number of seniors who use cannabis. In 2018, an estimated 4% of people aged 65+ used marijuana products in the previous year. In 2006, the percentage was just 0.4%. This is potentially a problem given that the virus is a far higher risk to older people.

The strong links between the use of cannabis and reduced anxiety and stress mean it is a popular drug at present. It seems inevitable that there’s an increase in the number of novice users since the virus took hold. Those who feel the walls closing on during lockdown will doubtless try anything they can to feel better. A huge number of people will probably view weed as a ‘crutch’ to get them through these hard times.

However, it is potentially a bad idea to smoke marijuana right now. The act of smoking alone will increase lung irritation, wheezing, and coughing. Individuals with existing lung issues will only exacerbate their condition.

If I Shouldn’t Smoke Marijuana, What Should I Do?

You don’t necessarily have to quit using cannabis altogether. Thankfully, there are a vast number of alternatives. You could use a vaporizer if you are seeking fast relief from your symptoms. However, be very wary of cannabis oil, and don’t use any product from the black market. It is these ‘fake’ cartridges that are linked with the vaping disease epidemic that has claimed hundreds of lives.

The level of lung damage sustained from vaporizing marijuana is far lower than if you smoke the herb. Nonetheless, it is arguably best to avoid this form of consumption while the specter of COVID-19 looms. This is particularly pertinent if you already have lung or breathing issues.

If you are eager to use cannabis, edibles are by far the best option. There is an array of delicious options, including gummies and chocolate. There is no inhalation involved. Simply put the product in your mouth, chew, and swallow! If you decide to purchase edibles, please note that it can take up to two hours to feel an effect. Therefore, please resist the urge to consume a second bite soon after having the first. Also, the different THC conversion process involved means the effects may feel more robust or unusual compared to vaping or smoking.

Keep a Clear Head!

If you are in the high-risk category, especially, you must keep your marijuana usage at a reasonable level. Let’s say you contract the Coronavirus and experience severe symptoms. If you are entirely stoned, you will struggle to communicate clearly with a healthcare professional.

Remember, these are extraordinary times, and the hospital setting you’re used to doesn’t exist right now. Instead, you will likely speak with an individual dressed in protective clothing who is under extreme pressure. They want to know quickly whether they should keep you in, send you home, or put you on a ventilator. In this scenario, an inability to discuss your symptoms and how you feel is a potential disaster.

Final Thoughts on Smoking Cannabis & The Coronavirus

There is little evidence that smoking marijuana increases your risk of catching COVID-19. In terms of who it attacks, the virus is indiscriminate. However, smoking of any description CAN increase your risk of enduring additional complications.

At present, the information we have relating to the Coronavirus is incomplete. What we know is that the disease makes it hard to breathe once it takes hold. It is also apparent that people with specific underlying conditions are at risk, and the mortality rate escalates sharply once you reach the age of 60.

We have no idea of the correct rate of infection or the actual mortality rate. Likely, we’ll never have a truly accurate figure. What seems apparent, however, is that smoking, whether it is cannabis or tobacco, in the current climate, is a bad idea. It is a virus that severely restricts your breathing and damages your lungs. It seems clear that partaking in a habit that can do the same, only enhances the risk you face should the virus infect you.