Another La Niña could mean a dry and warm winter in Albuquerque, but chances are we’ll still be seeing plenty of cases of cold and flu before spring rolls around again. It seems like marijuana users will find any excuse to smoke pot, but is it actually a good idea to treat your cold or flu with cannabis?
The truth is that very little is actually known about the health benefits or dangers of using cannabis. While the current body of scientific knowledge around the use of the plant indicates that using it while sick will do no lasting harm, that body of work is relatively small, and there is little-to-no data on using cannabis while sick with the cold or flu.
So before you start lighting up that joint to fix your cough, stop and consider what you’re doing. Is your throat raw and scratchy? Does smoking pot usually make your throat feel more or less raw and scratchy?
The truth is that cannabis isn’t the panacea that some advocates and enthusiasts would have you believe it is. Smoking marijuana can irritate your esophagus, and if your throat is already in pain, adding another irritant is probably not the answer.
Illnesses like the common cold or the flu can leave victims feeling disoriented and dizzy. If you’re new to cannabis or especially sensitive to its effects, smoking weed might actually exacerbate these symptoms.
When It Can Help
All of this being considered, cannabis might offer some health benefits to regular consumers and medical cannabis patients suffering fro common cold and flu symptoms.
While many health claims about cannabis have been made, the drug’s ability to fight inflammation has been tested again and again and consistently appears to be true. A 2011 paper published in the journal Neuroscience Letters found that CBD helped reduce inflammatory pain in rats. A 2016 study from the European Journal of Pain found that CBD relieves pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Another 2016 study found in the journal Gastroenterology and Hepatology discovered that marijuana can counter symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
This anti-inflammatory mechanism occurs when cannabinoids interact with CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system and help regulate the body’s inflammatory responses
In some studies, cannabinoids have been shown to have anti-microbial properties, or the ability to slow the spread of microorganisms and viruses, like those that cause the cold and flu. A study published in the journal Antibiotics in 2020 found that several cannabinoids including THC, CBD and CBN showed “potent antimicrobial activity” against pathogens and eradicated biofilms. A 2021 study published in Communications Biology found that CBD showed “remarkably useful antimicrobial activity beyond that previously described.”
If you’ve ever had one of those gagging, full-bodied weed coughs that left you gasping for air with tears streaming down your face, then you won’t be surprised by this next benefit of smoking cannabis while sick.
Cannabis is a natural expectorant—meaning that it aids in clearing mucus from the lungs and throat through coughing. As mentioned above, if you’re throat is already hurting or irritated from coughing, then smoking will only make it worse. But if you have some gunk sitting deep in your lungs and you’re having trouble getting rid of it, there aren’t many better ways of doing that than with a serious pot hack-a-thon. It’s gross but it works.
Marijuana’s power to combat pain—both chronic and acute—is known the world over. According to the New Mexico Department of Health’s most recent report, 38,534 patients enrolled in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program were recommended cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain. It’s the second largest group of cannabis patients behind those suffering from post-traumatic stress.
If the cold or flu is keeping you awake, a nice puff of indica will help send you off to a comfortable and restful sleep. Using cannabis as a sleep aid can be especially helpful if a patient is using other over-the-counter or prescribed medicines and is concerned about adding another pharmaceutical to the list. Marijuana has been used as a safe and effective way to drift off to dreamland for centuries.
Smoking, Edibles or Wax?
As we mentioned before, if your throat or lungs are feeling especially raw or irritated, it’s probably best to avoid smoking cannabis for the relief of those symptoms, as it will likely just make the problems even worse. The problem is that smoking cannabis is unarguably the most medically beneficial method of using the drug. Vaping cannabis oil has been tied to lung health problems in recent years and doesn’t appear to be as “healthy” an alternative to smoking as it’s often touted.
In this instance edibles are a better option, although they will likely help most with insomnia. Edibles are problematic because it’s too easy to take too much and have an unpleasant time (a bad edible trip would definitely just make a cold worse). They also won’t have the full terpene and cannabinoid profile that raw flower will have, meaning they won’t necessarily have all of the medical benefit that are mentioned above.
CBD For Relief
And if you’re looking for some of these benefits without the high, why not try some CBD oil from a reputable manufacturer? As with edibles and THC oils, CBD is an isolated compound and won’t have all the same medical benefits of full-profile flower, but CBD has many of the benefits found in other cannabinoids—if only to a lesser extent.
Whether you choose to use cannabis to help treat your wintertime health issues or not, remember that nothing beats a cold like rest and a good bowl of soup.