This article originally appeared on Tonic in the US in September 2017
The Scenario: It's cold and flu season and your dumbass friend didn't get a flu shot back in October. Now, he's at home on the couch, wrapped in a comforter and fighting his way through chills, fatigue and nausea. It's boring and unpleasant, and he has so exhausted the good options on Netflix, he's considering checking out Iron Fist. Should he make life a little less terrible by reaching for his bong?
The Reality: There's been scant funding for cannabis research and it's been heavily politicized, so there hasn't been a scientific inquiry aimed at finding weed's effects on the common cold or flu.
"With regard to whether or not cannabis cures or helps the common cold, I have tried to conduct several searches on this topic over the years and have found no scientific evidence or trials that have evaluated this outcome," says Laura Borgelt, a professor in the departments of clinical pharmacy and family medicine at the University of Colorado, who has done extensive research into the pharmacology of cannabinoids.
Borgelt says that there is a "theoretical belief" that cannabis may suppress the immune system, which could delay or interfere with the body's efforts to fight off the virus.
But the effect on the course of the illness should be small, says Jordan Tishler, a Harvard-trained physician who runs InhaleMD, a Massachusetts-based practice specializing in medicinal marijuana. "I would not be concerned about the immune system in anyone who starts with a normal one," he says. Tishler sees "no particular concerns about getting high while sick with common cold."
"However," he adds, "it may be unpleasant or it might be quite relieving." As for the "unpleasant" category of possibilities, there might be a cross effect of the symptoms of the virus and the effects of the weed that may make either more intense. "Fevers can make you feel cold, so can cannabis, so that might not be a great combination," Tishler says.
The Worst That Can Happen: For people with bronchitis or some bug that's particularly battering the throat, smoking anything might be uncomfortable.
"Vaporizing and smoking cannabis might be irritating to the lungs, if you have an upper respiratory illness," says Ira Price, an emergency medicine physician and the medical director of Synergy Health Services Inc., an Ontario medical marijuana clinic. He recommends getting your THC through edibles or transcutaneous patches in such a situation.
Tishler strongly advices against experimenting with any new types of marijuana usage while also enduring a cold or flu. "Oral cannabis behaves quite differently from inhaled cannabis," he warns, "so should not be substituted without knowing what you're doing. Getting too high while sick is unlikely to be more fun than getting too high when not sick, which is no fun at all."
What Will Probably Happen: Medical experts do not think that marijuana will significantly impact the effects of a cold or flu for a person with no other conditions.
Combing weed and cold or flu will not lead to some kind of bad high out of Reefer Madness. However, some adverse effects of marijuana use, like dizziness or disorientation, that creep up on some smokers may be worse when ill.
What to Tell Your Friend: As the "enhancement smoker" played by Jon Stewart in Half Baked immortally described, every experience is different on weed. Smoking a bowl is usually a fine way to improve your mood and may seem like a way for your friend to diminish his misery when he's achy, stuffed-up, nauseated and stuck at home. Just be careful. The more unpleasant effects of toking up may be more unpleasant and a spell of fever is a particularly poor time to get too high. And if you've got a sore throat, reach for the lozenges, not the lighter.
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