By Dr. Mitchell Davis

Many of our patients at ComCan Healthcare have asked about the risks of continued cannabis use during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

• Does cannabis use increase the risk of contracting COVID-19? There is no evidence to suggest that cannabis users in general have greater risk of contracting the infection, and there is some preliminary evidence that it may help prevent infection. COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets and can be picked up by being in proximity to infected individuals or by putting contaminated items in your mouth. Medical marijuana dispensaries have implemented enhanced sanitary practices, and there are no reported cases of infected medical marijuana products. There is no reason why cannabis products should increase the risk of infection provided they are used with the same precautions as any other medical product.

• Are there additional precautions I should take in using cannabis during the pandemic? Cannabis users can reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19 by practicing the same sanitizing/safety measures used for food or other household products. We recommend users wash their hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Medical marijuana products are dispensed for the use of approved individuals and should never be shared with others. In the case of COVID-19, sharing a joint, pipe or other device risks spreading infection. 

Another concern is coughing, which can disperse COVID-19 pathogens into the air. Medical marijuana patients who are prone to coughing should minimize the risk of infecting others by not smoking when others are nearby.

• If I become infected, does cannabis use risk making the disease course worse? The available evidence does not suggest any additional risk of COVID-19 severity for those using medical marijuana or CBD products. Similar to tobacco products or any other inhaled substance, cannabis smoke can cause irritation and microscopic injury to the lungs. Although we recognize that inhalation is preferred by some patients based on their need for immediate relief, it is important to understand the risks. Any inhaled substance may affect the respiratory system. To avoid lung irritation, patients may wish to consider using oral forms of cannabis such as tinctures and capsules. The positive effect of cannabinoids in the lung should also be considered. 

• Can cannabis or CBD help prevent or treat COVID-19? It is important to note that cannabis is not approved by the FDA for the prevention or treatment of any disease. Studies have been limited and more research is needed to bring us real answers. Nonetheless, we can draw some conclusions based on a combination of new research and the existing pharmacological knowledge of cannabinoids.

There is some preliminary evidence to suggest that cannabis or CBD can prevent infection from the coronavirus and that, in cases of infection it may reduce the severity of the resulting illness. Researchers studied more than 400 strains to determine the potential of cannabis to prevent infection by interfering with the ability of the virus to bind to cell receptors. Several strains reduced the number of available virus receptors by up to 73 percent. Reducing the number of receptors produces a lower chance of getting infectedinfection.

The anti-inflammatory properties of several cannabinoids are well-documented in medical literature. CBD in particular has potent anti-inflammatory properties, reducing cytokine production and modulating immune cell responses. These properties may reduce the “cytokine storm” that causes respiratory distress and death in many COVID-19 patients, and many believe CBD could be a candidate for treating COVID-19 related inflammation. This is consistent with what we know about cannabinoids and why they work in inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. CBD has also been shown to increase the production of interferon, a protein that activates immune cells and prevents viruses from replicating. These are preliminary studies, and more research is needed to determine whether we can consider the cannabinoids in medical marijuana and CBD products as legitimate candidates for prevention or treatment of COVID-19 infections. 

To summarize, there is no reason medical marijuana and CBD products cannot continue to be used safely despite the pandemic. Neither medical marijuana nor CBD products are recommended for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19, but the available evidence suggests cannabinoids are more helpful than harmful in preventing infection and in mitigating the most severe symptoms of the disease. All medical marijuana and CBD products should be used in consultation with your qualifying physician.