Health experts from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the American Lung Association have said that smoking cannabis can increase a person’s risk for severe complications of COVID-19.
“Because it attacks the lungs, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape.” the National Institute on Drug Abuse said in a recent announcement.
Meanwhile, Dr. ALbert Rizzo, chief medical officer for the American Lung Foundation explained that when smoking cannabis, the airways experience a similar degree of inflammation to smoking cigarettes. Resulting in bronchitis-like symptoms, a person’s chances of having more severe complications from coronavirus increase.
“Marijuana burns at a much, much lower temperature than a commercially made cigarette,” says pulmonologist Dr. Mitchell Glass and spokesperson for the American Lung Association. “Because of that, the person is inhaling a certain amount of unburnt plant material...So right off the bat, there are those patients who would be increasingly susceptible to having a bronchospasm or cough because they have a more sensitive airway.”
Beyond being at an increased risk of developing severe symptoms from the coronavirus, doctors also warn that other marijuana-related issues may complicate the identification of a case of COVID-19. People who frequently smoke marijuana for example may develop a cough, a common symptom of COVID-19, that could confuse doctors in the process of diagnosis.
Furthermore, people who are admitted to hospital for smoking cannabis often have a confused state of mind, making it more difficult for doctors to determine whether to send the patient home or keep them in.
“Now there’s a healthcare worker who is gowned, gloved, possibly in a hazmat suit trying to get through to you. These are people who are trying to decide if you should be going home, coming into the emergency room, or worst-case scenario, that you need to be put on a ventilator,” says Glass. “They want the person who’s agreeing and giving informed consent to be completely in control of their thought processes.”
To prevent such confusion, doctors advise patients to give proper details about their usage of cannabis and other substances to healthcare workers so proper diagnoses and treatment arrangements can be made.