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Cannabis & The COVID-19 Pandemic

By Vanessa Matthews

Cannabis is standing strong, even in the midst of a global pandemic. Although this is a troubling time both economically and culturally, the cannabis industry has experienced record highs and success during this period. According to CBS analytics, there has been a 25% increase at over 1000 dispensaries across the country



It’s no question that some cannabis users enjoy the plant for the relaxing, anxiety-relieving effects some strains can provide. According to a 2018 study published in the National Library of Medicine, cannabis users perceived a 50% reduction in depression and a 58% decrease in general stress and anxiety after consuming cannabis (Cuttler & Spradlin, 2018). Undoubtedly, the current state of the world is full of an entirely new anxiety and fear, logically resulting in use for anxiety relief to increase. “40% of marijuana users said they were using more pot during the pandemic and 74% said stress and anxiety were the main reasons for their current cannabis use” (Jagielski, 2020). There is good reason that dispensaries are deemed as essential businesses: It truly is an essential, life-improving medicine for some.



Because the virus primarily attacks the respiratory system, it’s understandable that people may be questioning the health implications of cannabis consumption during this time of risk and uncertainty. It’s important to be an informed consumer with anything, and put thorough thought into what you decide to partake in.


New York-based physician Dr. Junella Chin suggests for people who are concerned about inhalation, to opt for consumables such as edibles, beverages, capsules, and tinctures. When deciding your cannabis game-plan in the midst of the pandemic, take into consideration your risk-level to the virus. COVID-19 attacks by injuring the respiratory lining, resulting in inflammation, blocking oxygen flow (Chin, 2020). Depending on your situation, you may decide that you want to put smoke inhalation to the side for a while.



If you are to smoke, it’s highly favorable to smoke with water. Bongs and water pipes with nice percolation will ensure some of the “bad stuff” is filtered from what you’re inhaling, albeit not all. Regardless, you absolutely reap the benefits of smoke that is both cooler, and smoother-feeling on the lungs. The idea that smoking from a water pipe being the healthier option can be backed up by science, too! A research study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute demonstrated that water filtration decreased both the number of particulates, and types of toxic substances in smoke passed through water (Cozzi, PhD). “The water pipe was found to retain 90% of the phenol and 50% of the particulate matter and benzo-a-pyrene of the original smoke.” 


(Oh, P.S., always remember to clean your bong water - if you don’t, you aren’t really getting the purifying and conditioning benefits, making it pretty much useless.)




Dry herb vaping is a great option that takes away some of the harmful components that result from burning weed. Most of the harmful substances in smoke (regardless of what you're smoking) is from combustion: the process that burns the plant down to ash. According to The American Lung Association, carcinogens and toxins are released from the combustion of materials. Vaporizing, instead, heats the herb to the point where the cannabinoids and terpenes become vapor, without burning and destroying the plant material. A study conducted by The Harm Reduction Journal investigated the impacts of cannabis smoking versus cannabis vaping. The study consisted of nearly 7,000 participants with overall healthy respiratory systems. The results found that herb vaping caused far less respiratory problems in comparison to regular herb smoking, making vaporizing a seemingly safer option for consumers.


At the end of the day, it’s up to each individual to decide what they’re comfortable with partaking in. It’s vital to take everything into consideration, including your risk factor to the virus, and the method of cannabis consumption you choose.



Conflicting information about cannabis in relation to COVID-19 lives in all corners of the internet, making it potentially overwhelming to try to decipher what’s true, and what to do with that information. Amongst all the anxiety and uncertainties due to the pandemic, clear and trustable information is essential. So, what’s been discovered?



Since the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has no current vaccine or treatment, new research is being conducted to find possible preventative measures against the virus. “Researchers at the University of Lethbridge recently released results from a study that shows the benefits of CBD as an aid in blocking the cells that enter the body from the novel coronavirus.” Based on this research, it suggests that some strains of cannabis have the ability to inhibit the entrance of the virus into the lungs, hence, possibly reducing the risk of infection. 


Professor of Biological Sciences, Dr. Igor Kovalchuk, led the Canadian study that observed the effects of different newly-created cannabis strains for their potential to inhibit the entrance of the virus. Using artificially 3D tissue models, the researchers mapped out how cannabis strains (around 400 of them!) may interact with the COVID-19 virus.


Cannabis sativa, especially strains high in CBD, has been proposed to modulate inflammation and gene expression, as well as containing anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties (Wang & Kovalchuk, 2020). The coronavirus needs a receptor to enter its host. That receptor is known as an "angiotensin-converting enzyme II,"  or ACE2. This receptor is found in lung tissue, the kidneys, gastrointestinal tracts, testes, and oral and nasal mucus. “The theory is that by modulating ACE2 levels in those "gateways" to the human host, it may be possible to lower our susceptibility, or vulnerability, to the virus” (Abbany, 2020). Some strains even blocked virus receptors by 73%! Basically, if there's no ACE2 on tissues, the virus will not enter.


While mary jane certainly won’t make you COVID-proof (if only!), these findings show promising results. However, we must keep in mind that this study has currently not gone under rigorous peer review.



On top of the research surrounding the ACE2 receptor, a unique cannabis terpene formula has been developed at CannaSoul Analytics in hopes of providing protection against the virus. It has been found through past studies that types of cannabis terpenes have the potential to fight off viral infections such as COVID-19, aimed specifically toward high-risk, vulnerable populations. “Specific terpenes that came into contact with the SARS virus were found to reduce its severity and impact by withholding a certain protein that replicates the RNA – preventing it from penetrating healthy cells and using them as hosts for its replication” (MCN, 2020). The goal of this research is to hopefully identify molecules within the plant’s DNA that are able to suppress COVID-19’s immune response within the body.



During these past couple months, the virus has understandably been wreaking havoc over the global economy. In the United States, 20.5 million people in April alone lost their jobs due to the virus. This raised the U.S. unemployment rate to 14.7% - the highest level of unemployment since The Great Depression. Interestingly enough, it appears that the pandemic has affected each industry differently - whether it be positively or negatively - and in ways that are unpredictable, to say the least.


Statistics have shown that in approximately the first month, cannabis retailers experienced a huge boom in sales. Let’s take the state of California as an example: In mid-March, sales were up 159%. But surprisingly, by the end of March, it had decreased to a mere 25% increase in sales. In Washington State, sales were up by 100%. However by the end of March, sales were actually lower than they had been at that point in 2019, averaging out at a 9% monthly increase (Jagielski, 2020). A few things have encouraged this sudden spike, including anxiety and stress sparked from the virus, and of course, boredom in isolation. I mean, there’s only so much you can do at home, right?


Although the cannabis industry experienced booming growth at the dawn of the pandemic, it’s possible that the dramatic growth may be somewhat fleeting. Perhaps, amidst all the panic-buying of things like toilet paper and food when the situation turned dire, it had the same effect on cannabis users.


Also, now that many people have stocked up on their supply of green, it’s likely many cannabis users have ample amounts to last. It’s needless to say that it will be quite interesting to see the progression of cannabis sales as the months go on, and if the virus continues to have a profound effect on the industry.



Stock value have increased, too. It’s been reported that since the recent Canadian study of cannabis’s possibility to ward off the virus, weed stocks have experienced a surge. Interestingly enough, this surge didn’t happen right at the release of this study. It seemed to be the eventual virality of it that really boosted the value of cannabis shares. Could some of that be attributed to buzzwords and clickbait about weed being the “cure” to the coronavirus? Possibly. But, are the findings still highly compelling? Absolutely.



It’s no doubt that the future is uncertain in terms of the progression of the virus, and how it will continue to impact economies and cultures, including the cannabis industry. Markets can go from thriving to declining, and in the midst of an insanely unpredictable virus, there’s little telling what the future holds. 


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