Covid-19, Cannabis and Your Lung Health

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, therefore having the healthiest lungs possible is vital for everyone on the planet right now. Smoking is a MAJOR risk factor in succumbing to Covid-19 for a multitude of reasons. People sharing joints, bongs, vaporizers, etc. are at extremely high risk for transmitting or receiving the coronavirus. Smoking can also suppress the immune system leading to increased susceptibility. 

Baked Bros education director Derek Espinoza has gathered a few tips and tricks to keep your lungs as healthy and protect you from Covid-19–while still allowing you to consume cannabis regularly:

We are often told smoking cannabis is safe but is there research to support this idea? Based on data combined with extensive epidemiological studies, the answer seems to be probably not. Cannabis smoke is believed to contain many of the same carcinogens as tobacco smoke. As much as four times the amount of tar can be deposited into the lungs from cannabis smoking when compared to cigarette smoking because of differences in the filtration and smoking technique. Heavy cannabis use is associated with an increased incidence of chronic bronchitis, which is characterized by coughing, sputum, and wheezing. Heavy use is also associated with a marked decline in lung function.

CANNABIS AND YOUR LUNGS

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Consuming cannabis through traditional methods of combustion will have some impact on your lungs because of the CB1 and CB2 receptors located in our respiratory tissue. By activating these receptors with cannabinoids like THC and CBD, we change the natural signaling and alter the functioning of the respiratory system.

“THC can reduce the inflammatory process by dampening the immune system, it can also leave users vulnerable to infections.”

In research with animal models, THC demonstrated the ability to reduce acute lung inflammation typically associated with things like pneumonia. This process makes cannabinoids like THC an exciting option for helping to reduce inflammation and lung damage after an acute lung injury or when inflammation has occurred. The problem, however, is that because THC can reduce the inflammatory process by dampening the immune system, it can also leave users vulnerable to infections. Examples are the flu and other respiratory infections that result in conditions like bronchitis.

VAPORIZING CANNABIS

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One way in which cannabis consumers try to reduce the negative impacts of smoking cannabis is to vaporize it instead. While there is still very little data on the subject, a few studies provide some crucial insight. Vaporizing dry flower cannabis led to significant improvements in respiratory function for regular smokers who were experiencing at least two respiratory symptoms. The purported benefit of a dry flower vaporizer is that it can release cannabis compounds in a vapor rather than smoke, thereby avoiding the risk of many respiratory irritants. 

“The most alarming finding of recent studies is that users combining e-cigarette use with combustible tobacco consumption…had the highest rates of respiratory disease.”

Electronic vaping is a different story because instead of vaporizing dry flower, you are vaporizing concentrated cannabis in an oil form. This method of vaping was responsible for many alarming cases of people hospitalized, with several people losing their lives and many others becoming permanently injured. This horrific outbreak was primarily due to vape cartridges contaminated with Vitamin E acetate. It seems that cannabis oil itself is not to blame based on the CDC’s findings, but more research is needed.

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A recent study looking at the long term effects of e-cigarettes (comparable to cannabis vape cartridges) found that while e-cigarettes led to fewer incidences of respiratory disease compared to combustible tobacco, they still were not harm-free. E-cigarette users had higher rates of respiratory disease when compared to non-users. The most alarming finding of the study was that users combining e-cigarette use with combustible tobacco consumption, which is increasingly common, had the highest rates of respiratory disease.

FINAL THOUGHTS

When it comes to cannabis and your lungs, there is still much we don’t know. There is no hard data to tell us how much safer vaporizing dry flower is compared to smoking. We do not know if vape cartridges are as safe as dry flower, or vice versa. At the end of the day, it seems that inhaling anything into the lungs is less than optimal.