In recent years, research has proven that marijuana products have some valid medical uses. The FDA approved the first cannabis-based epilepsy drug for two rare forms of the disorder that strike in early childhood, and medical marijuana is frequently used to ease side effects in cancer patients. Additionally, a growing number of states have passed laws permitting regulated, recreational marijuana use, but that change doesn’t mean the substance is entirely harmless.
As we face a pandemic that primarily impacts the respiratory system, many marijuana users, especially those using it recreationally, have posed questions regarding the safety of their habit – and doctors have responded. Their conclusion: at least for now, users should stop smoking marijuana, or using other inhaled methods, or face greater risks from COVID-19.
Marijuana And The Respiratory System
Over the last few decades, marijuana products have become more mainstream, but due to federal legislation, research lagged far behind. During this time, however, many marijuana users made the unfounded claim that smoking marijuana was safer than cigarettes, based primarily on the fact that cigarettes contain a large number of added toxins. Now that we have greater insight into the impact of marijuana on the respiratory system, though, we know that it can be just as dangerous.
Like smoking cigarettes, research has shown that smoking marijuana is closely linked with the same types of respiratory dysfunction, including “smoker’s cough,” wheezing, throat inflammation, and shortness of breath, all things that can make any COVID-19 infection much worse. And, in the long-term, and especially with heavy use, marijuana smokers are prone to developing chronic bronchitis, COPD, and various respiratory infections. This is true, both in regards to smoking and vaping marijuana, since the lungs are simply not designed to inhale these irritating products.
Those using marijuana for medical reasons should also proceed with added caution, particularly if their underlying illness causes problems with the immune system. Inhaled marijuana use can damage the native immune system in the lungs, leading to an even greater risk of infection.
Other Forms Of Use
For those who want to consider using marijuana products, but are concerned about the increased risk of COVID-19 complications, switching to edible forms may be preferable. At the very least, this will prevent added lung irritation, though that may not be sufficient for those with a history of heavy inhaled marijuana use. Additionally, those who have never used edible marijuana products should proceed with caution since that form can result in sensations akin to a “bad trip.”
Don’t Forget About Second-Hand Smoke
Regardless of one’s personal choice to use marijuana, including for medical purposes, right now it’s important to avoid exposing others to second-hand smoke at any time. That’s because second-hand smoke is also implicated in lung damage, of the same kind and quality as personal use.
Hospitals are badly overburdened, especially in regard to access to ventilators and other forms of critical respiratory care, so there’s never been a more important time to stop using inhaled marijuana products. Right now, we all have an obligation to take the strain off of the healthcare system, and recreational marijuana use only serves to make a bad situation worse. It’s the right thing to do.