It might seem obvious that smoking cannabis while you have a chest or head cold, a sore throat, or any other form of upper respiratory irritation and/or congestion isn’t a good idea. It can certainly make these symptoms worse, which in turn can prolong your recovery.
Aside from the downsides of smoking, are there any other risks or concerns around consuming cannabis when you’re sick?
To answer this we need to think about the physiology of cannabis in your body, and the effects it can produce besides the more obvious mind/body effects like euphoria and full-body relaxation.
Physiology of Cannabis
First, it’s important to point out there is virtually no research looking at cannabis and the common cold or flu specifically. However, one commonly known and scientifically supported effect of cannabis is on body temperature. Cannabis acts in your body in a similar way to wasabi and hot peppers, working on the TRPV-1 receptors that regulate body temperature, which in turn can make you feel colder. This might be an unpleasant side effect if you’re already battling the chills that can come with a fever.
An increased resting heart rate, called tachycardia, often accompanies a fever and/or flu. Since cannabis is also known to cause tachycardia, consuming while sick might exacerbate an already accelerated heart rate.
Aside from these effects, according to cannabis therapeutics expert Dr. Jordan Tishler, there aren’t any huge concerns for a generally healthy person who consumes cannabis with a common cold or flu.
Some people believe consuming cannabis while sick can be therapeutic: it can take your mind off feeling miserable, relieve muscle aches and pains, act as an anti-inflammatory, and help you get some quality rest.
The active compounds in cannabis, like THC and CBD, work their magic through an innate biological system that all humans (and all mammals) have: the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis, or balance, in our bodies and does this by influencing many of our most basic bodily functions: appetite, sleep, and mood to name just a few. Our body’s natural balance is obviously thrown off kilter when we’re sick.
According to registered nurse and medicinal cannabis advocate Eileen Konieczny, “the endocannabinoid system is all about balance, so using cannabinoids while you are under the weather may help bolster this innate system to jump start you on your way to wellness.”
This is where alternative delivery methods come in.
Alternative Delivery Methods
It’s true that for fast onset and relief, few things can compete with smoking as a method of cannabis consumption. So if you really need a quick dose of symptom relief, consider vaping instead of smoking. Vaping can offer the same quick results as smoking, but without the carcinogens and other irritants that come along with combustion. Vaping can still affect your already irritated airways when you’re sick, but will be less irritating than smoking.
That said, in the rapidly evolving world of cannabis products, smoking and vaping aren’t the only options. Cannabis infused oils or tinctures are readily available from several licensed producers (LPs), and we can expect the edibles market to grow quite quickly after it comes online in 2019. In the meantime, though, you can always whip up a batch of cannabutter to stash in your freezer for cold and flu season.
You can also add tincture/cannabutter to your favourite tea. Infused teas can not only provide the medicinal benefits of cannabis, but also offer the comforting effects of a nice hot beverage while increasing your fluid intake.
“Ingesting cannabinoids in a tea or cookie will allow for a longer period of relief, which is especially helpful when you are trying to get a good night’s sleep,” adds Konieczny.
One word of caution when orally ingesting cannabis (versus smoking) while sick is to consume with care. Since over-consumption of edibles and other orally ingested products can be very unpleasant even when you’re in the best of health, overconsumption when you’re under the weather is certainly not what the doctor ordered. Avoid trying new products or ingestion methods that you’re not familiar with when sick, and if you do, start low with dosage and wait at least 90 minutes before consuming more.
High potency oils can be used to make your own topicals to help with aching joints and muscles. Some licensed producers, like MedReleaf and CanniMed, offer base mixtures to which you can simply add oils to make your own topical creams.
As the Canadian cannabis market continues to grow and adult-use legalization comes into effect, expect to see new and innovative products like quick-dissolve tablets, transdermal patches, transmucosal sprays, and other delivery methods become available.
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