Cannabis Consumption, Vaccinations, and Covid-19: The basics

Cannabis Consumption, Vaccinations, and Covid-19: The basics

As the urgency to get vaccinated against Covid-19 grows amid evidence that vaccination may be a cornerstone aspect of controlling the pandemic, cannabis consumers across the nation may have many questions. Among these are whether cannabis users who smoke the plant or its extracts will have priority in vaccine distribution due to the respiratory effects of smoking. Additionally, consumers might question whether it is safe to indulge in a celebratory joint, bowl, or dab after getting their Covid-19 jab. Stoners who are unable to get vaccinated might also have concerns regarding how the virus might affect them compared to non-consumers if they are exposed. While the results of scientific research regarding cannabis consumption and Covid-19 are mixed, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that using cannabis makes one more likely to suffer vaccine side effects or develop severe Covid-19 than other people who habitually inhale smoke. 

In answer to those who are wondering if smoking cannabis makes them eligible for vaccination similar to tobacco smokers, marijuana consumers are unfortunately not eligible under new guidelines in many states that allow tobacco smokers to get vaccinated. This has struck many, including healthcare experts, as a controversial choice, as cannabis consumption in the form of smoke affects the lungs in a similar way to tobacco smoke. Dr. Howard Ehrman, former assistant commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health has come out in support of marijuana smokers being covered under Illinois Phase 1B+, saying that public health officials “should be consistent” in deciding who is at risk for severe Covid-19 and eligible for early vaccination. Most cases of cannabis-related health complications, such as chronic bronchitis and air pockets in and around the lungs, occur in heavy consumers who use smoking as their main means of marijuana use. However, many of these individuals may have undiagnosed lung damage and as a result, would be at high risk of becoming severely ill if they contracted Covid-19. 

In efforts to convince as many individuals as possible to get vaccinated and stunt the spread of Covid-19, many groups have provided incentives for people who choose to get their shot. Among these are dispensaries and marijuana advocacy groups across the country offering cannabis products to adults who elect to get their Covid jab. Several dispensaries across the country have offered edibles or free joints to individuals who were able to show their vaccination card, while cannabis advocates have offered “joints for jabs” in New York City and Washington. In light of the fact that many people are being offered free cannabis products in return for proof of vaccination, many might wonder if it is safe to get high after being vaccinated. There is not a wealth of scientific research specifically exploring potential interactions between weed and vaccines. Smoking any substance has been shown to have a mild depressant effect on the immune system, so edibles may be a good option for those who are concerned. However, medical experts such as William Schaffner, MD, who is a professor of preventative medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University have said that there no cause for concern, as there is no reason to believe that marijuana consumption will interact with the vaccine or reduce its efficacy in any measurable sense. In light of this, any consumers questioning whether they should take advantage of vaccine-related cannabis promotions may do so without any fear of adverse reaction. There is even evidence to suggest that consuming weed might help mitigate uncomfortable vaccine side effects, such as pain, nausea, and headaches. However, consumers should use their own knowledge of their biological reactions to cannabis to assess whether consuming it after being vaccinated is the best option for them, as marijuana might worsen the fatigue many people experience a few days after getting a Covid-19 shot. 

Another thing that might be on the minds of cannabis consumers is whether they are at higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19 than individuals who do not partake. The answer to this question is complex and somewhat contradictory, perhaps because there has been limited research on how cannabis affects Covid-19 disease progression or outcomes. As stated above, smoking anything, cannabis or otherwise, can have negative effects on respiratory functioning which leads to heavy smokers being at higher risk for severe illness. However, research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows that THC and CBD might actually have a “down regulating” effect on the “cytokine storm” that leads to inflamed lungs and respiratory pathways in individuals with Covid-19. The strain one is consuming might also have a significant effect on whether cannabis consumption renders Covid infections more or less severe, as the study published by the NCBI found that three out of seven sativa extracts tested had a profound and significant down regulating effect, while one had an effect that “may be deleterious.” Some reports also suggest that there is anecdotal evidence that smokers are less susceptible to Covid-19. However, there is no empirical evidence to suggest this is the case, so people should not take this as an indication to flout official guidelines. 

Covid-19 has been a central feature in many individuals’ lives for over a year. It is also a respiratory illness, which has inspired many questions among cannabis consumers regarding the virus, vaccinations, and marijuana use. Many people who regularly smoke weed are currently unable to get vaccinated despite the potential for increased risk of severe disease similar to those who smoke tobacco. However, many individuals who are eligible under current vaccine standards might find that dispensaries or advocate groups in their area offer incentives for vaccinated individuals, an unexpected benefit that these individuals will likely be able to enjoy freely based on their individuals reactions to the plant. Information regarding whether cannabis consumption is beneficial or harmful as regards Covid-19 infection is limited and conflicting. Therefore, one might argue that the best approach to marijuana consumption, Covid-19, and vaccines is sensible consumption and avoiding exposure to the virus as much as possible. 

Chicago Sun-Times article about cannabis consumer vs. tobacco smoker vaccine eligibility:

Information about cannabis use after vaccination:

Information about how cannabis consumption might interact with Covid-19 and vaccination:

Chicago Tribune article discussing cannabis products as vaccine incentives: