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Public health officials in states with legal recreational pot are warning residents to be careful how they consume it—and who they consume it with.
With social distancing encouraged to stop the spread of the coronavirus, some people might turn to marijuana as an anxiety balm and to help pass the time. But public health officials are advising that smokers ditch the puff, puff, pass culture associated with smoking weed.
Marijuana consumption may rise during the coronavirus outbreak, predicted one report from research firm MKM Partners. "The vice of choice when alone is cannabis. The vice of choice in large groups or with new people is alcohol," analyst Bill Kirk told Investor’s Business Daily. "We believe any increased stay-at-home activity related to Covid-19 will accelerate the vice share shift away from alcohol toward cannabis."
Weed smokers have been touting their preparedness for social distancing on Twitter, but some accounts are spreading rumors that the smoke from marijuana can kill coronavirus—a claim that is categorically false.
There is no known cure for the coronavirus and trying to sell CBD or THC products that claim to ward off the virus could land companies in court. Two state attorneys general have already taken legal action against a televangelist who was trying to sell a “silver solution” that would cure the virus. There isn’t any vaccine or preventative treatment for coronavirus either. During a March 2 webcast from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Hilary Marston, a policy advisor at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that a vaccine is still a long way off. "If everything moves as quickly as possible, the soonest that it could possibly be is about one-and-a-half to two years,” Marston said. “That still might be very optimistic.”
Eleven states have legalized recreational marijuana, while 33 allow some form of medical pot consumption.
In Illinois, which just recently opened up marijuana to legal sales, operators of marijuana dispensaries this week raised concerns about the crowds of people who congregate in shops, saying they are worried about the health of medical marijuana patients who often have compromised immune systems. One dispensary decided to close to only medical marijuana customers, the Chicago Tribune reported. The first recreational dispensary in Oakland County, Michigan, this week postponed its grand opening events, but remained open for sales.
As for whether marijuana itself is dangerous in relation to coronavirus, Dr. Jordan Tishler, president of the Association of Cannabis Specialists, said cannabis consumers might consider how they consume the drug. “Taking cannabis in a non-inhaled fashion is absolutely not a problem,” said Tishler, who also runs InhaleMD, an association of medical marijuana providers in Massachusetts. “But we don’t yet know enough about the pathogenesis of the lung dysfunction associated with Covid-19. If you really have Covid-19 or some other extreme respiratory illness, it would be best to avoid smoking cannabis, because it has particulate matter that can be irritating to the lungs.”
Tishler recommended users consume edibles or vape during the outbreak if those with lung conditions like asthma are worried about irritating their respiratory systems.
A representative from Denver Public Health recommended that people put their joints and bongs aside for the time being. “Denver Public Health does not recommend breathing in any kind of smoke in the midst of a respiratory virus outbreak, as smoke is not good for lungs,” the agency said in a written statement. “Additionally, with any illness like this, we don’t recommend sharing any objects where germs can be spread. We continue to encourage people to follow the same guidance we all know for reducing your risk of getting any respiratory virus, like the flu and colds each year.”
Hilary Karasz, of the Seattle and King County Public Health Department, agreed. “People should not share any utensils, and that includes bongs and pipes,” she said.
Tishler said social use of cannabis puts people at significant risk. “Cannabis users like to share,” he said. “But the bottom line is that we need to modify our behaviors. I’m not saying you shouldn't share your bong with your wife. But sharing with 15 friends is a major risk, and if you cut it out, you’re better off.”
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Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.