COVID-19: Smoking etiquette needs to change

Passing around a joint during the COVID-19 pandemic and flu season is not a good idea

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More people in Canada are using cannabis for medical and recreational uses, with Statistics Canada reporting that 5.3 million – or 18 per cent of Canadians aged 15 years and older – have used cannabis in the last three months.

This number was higher than the 14 per cent who reported using just one year earlier, before legalization.

With COVID-19 forcing the cancellation of events and health officials recommending social-distancing measures, more people will be staying home.

But if you still plan on sharing joints with friends, the etiquette around smoking culture needs to be re-examined.

Many experienced cannabis smokers may know the rules by heart. For example: joints will be passed around in what is typically known as a sharing circle. This act is seen as a sign of appreciation and caring for your fellow smokers. However, if you’re sharing a joint or spliff with people with chronic health conditions or an autoimmune disease while you are sick, smoking together could be risky.

Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s best not to share joints, bongs, pipes or any other smoking or vaping products, and wash your hands frequently.

Cold and flu season

Declining to share a joint wasn’t exactly taboo before COVID-19.

Cold and flu season in still full swing. Illnesses can be spread through oral transmission and make one more susceptible to mono and cold sores. Research has shown that the human mouth is home to hundreds of different microorganisms, and our saliva will do its best to protect us from threats or sickness. But sometimes our healthy antibodies fail.

The reality is that sharing a joint around a group is not hygienic. Do you honestly believe that a big, wet-mouthed joint between strangers is a good way to stop the spread of the common cold and flu? Next time someone asks if you want a toke, a simple “No, thank you” should do, even if you worry you’ll seem inhospitable. Your health and the health of others is better than the smoke session you’re about to partake in.

But don’t panic: you can still smoke up when sick. It’s just more important to do your homework and be conscious of how to do it and what to use.

While there hasn’t been a ton of research on smoking weed while ill with the cold or flu, it doesn’t mean that people aren’t using the plant for medicinal purposes while sick.

There have been studies that point to cannabis having anti-inflammatory properties, which can potentially help with things like sore throat and fever. Plus, more recently, a team at McMaster University discovered that a chemical compound in cannabis could be used to treat antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Professor Eric Brown, who lead the study, told the CBC, “The findings suggest a real therapeutic potential for cannabinoids as antibiotics.”

But since we’re not quite there yet, if you’re plagued by a cough (due to a cold), smoking weed has the potential to make your respiratory symptoms worse.

If you want to smoke to help with your symptoms, do it safely. Try vaping your flower, as it hasn’t been known to have the same effect on the respiratory system. Or if you’re out socially with friends, bring your own pre-rolled joints to have a solo session and let others know you’re sick.

Then there’s CBD (cannabidiol), the plant-extracted cannabinoid in oil form. It’s non-psychoactive, meaning it will not have a strong effect on your cognitive brain activity. CBD is an anti-inflammatory that can fight pain, such as sinus pressure, and anti-viral properties. Because of this, studies of have shown that using CBD while sick might actually help relieve symptoms such as a stuffy nose, sore throat and aches and pains. So it may be worthwhile looking into a CBD-rich strain for those times when you’re feeling under the weather, and want to Netflix and chill. You could also look into different types of oils and tinctures if you’re not comfortable with smoking. Just keep in mind: CBD alone won’t do it all.

Although cannabis etiquette has been around for decades, it is time to re-evaluate how we are sharing smoke with people, and also how we participate in smoking for our own general health and wellness. Remember to smoke safe, and be healthy!

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