Winter is here in full force and cold and flu season is upon us. It might have you wondering if cannabis can help and if not, is it bad for you to consume when you’re sick? We’ve done a deep dive to try and answer these questions and more.
Cannabis research is very limited, as you may know from previous blog posts. But the good news is there is limited evidence that cannabis is unsafe to use while you have a cold, flu or cough. Obviously if your throat and chest are sore, cannabis will exacerbate that. The good news is that smoking isn’t the only consumption method. We’ll look at some other options.
Cannabis isn’t a cure for colds and flu but it certainly can help the symptoms. Colds and flu initiate the body’s immune response which results in inflammation. Cannabis is a great remedy to pain and inflammation.
Remember that smoking can have long and short term effects on respiratory functions which may cause your body to respond differently to cannabis when you’re sick. Both cannabis and common illnesses such as the flu can cause fatigue, chills, and headaches. You may feel these symptoms more intensely when you’re sick. Regular cannabis users probably won’t see a dramatic impact from consuming whilst they’re sick but you should still proceed with caution. This is not the time to experiment.
Don’t forget that paraphernalia like joints, bowls and bongs can spread your illness to others.
Research exploring the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes is still extremely limited. Although there may be benefits to consuming cannabis while sick, it’s unclear if they outweigh the potential negative effects. As usual, with the lack of research, consumers are going to have to make educated choices for themselves.
Ways cannabis may help with colds and flu
According to a comprehensive 2017 study by Trusted Source, there’s evidence that cannabis has anti-inflammatory properties.
Inflammation plays a role in a number of cold and flu symptoms, including:
- sore throat
- swollen nasal passageways
2. Pain reliefIn the same 2017 study, it was concluded that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain among adults.
Chronic pain is ongoing. It’s different from the acute aches and pains caused by a cold or the flu. Yet, it’s possible that cannabis could help relieve pain associated with short-term illnesses such as colds and flu.
3. Sleep aidAnother 2017 review of research showed that cannabis has an active ingredient (THC) that may help sleep in the short term. Rest is very important during recovery from any illness.
4. Fever and Chills“Chills occur during the flu as the body tries to raise its core temperature to kill the virus. Fever often occurs alongside chills when the body is fighting an infection. Fever occurs when the body increases its core temperature higher than normal. This is part of the inflammatory response, which activates the immune system. Cannabinoids in cannabis reduce the activity of cells involved in the immune system, alleviating inflammation’s side effects, like fever and chills.”
5. CongestionAn increase in mucus production is a sign that the immune system has been activated. This is because mucus is important for trapping pathogens and stopping them from reaching the lungs. Unfortunately, too much mucus production results in congestion. THC and CBD both help reduce mucus production, in turn relieving congestion.
6. Runny NoseSimilarly, a runny nose is a result of excess mucus production in response to the flu. Like congestion, cannabis relieves a runny nose by decreasing mucus production.
7. Headaches“Headaches have many causes. One common cause of headaches is restricting the blood flow in the brain, resulting in less oxygen reaching parts of the brain. Cannabis may calm nerves and dilate blood vessels allowing better blood flow and sufficient oxygen delivery to the brain. Cannabinoids also bind to receptors in the brain that regulate pain to help reduce the feeling of pain.”
Fatigue is a common symptom of the flu. Studies have shown that cannabis may reduce fatigue, although the mechanism is not fully understood yet.
Is it safe to use over-the-counter (OTC) medications and cannabis?
Although there’s no serious risk, combining cannabis with OTC cold and flu medications that have sedative effects, such as Myprodol, can intensify drowsiness and affect cognitive function. You may find it more difficult to concentrate and make decisions.
Can smoking make any of your symptoms worse?
Studies on the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes are limited.
There’s moderate evidence via Trusted Source that smoking cannabis can lead to the following side effects.
1. Worsened cough
A 2017 study showed that smoking cannabis long term is associated with a chronic cough and excess phlegm production.
If you’re sick with a cough, cold, or flu, smoking could make your respiratory symptoms worse. This is because cannabis smoke irritates the throat and airways.
The same study found that, “Dizziness is a common side effect of both inhaling and ingesting cannabis. Cannabis use can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure that may leave you feeling faint or light-headed. If you already feel weak or dizzy while sick with a cough, cold, or flu, weed could make it worse. If you’re a regular user, you may be able to minimize dizziness by decreasing your dosage.”
3. Stomach pain
Inhaling or ingesting cannabis activates cannabinoid receptors in the gastrointestinal system. This can cause a variety of effects, including stomach pain and inflammation.
Smoking isn’t the only form of ingestion. Let’s look at a few other (possibly safer) options.
Edibles, tinctures and topical ingestion
Other ways to consume cannabis include:
- ingestible oils
- topical oils
- oral sprays
“These forms of cannabis won’t make your cough or sore throat worse. However, they can still cause other side effects. The side effects depend on the concentration of active ingredients, such as THC.”.
Research has found that, “When you are sick, the best cannabis ingestion method or route of administration is via drops under the tongue. Cannabis ingested in this way takes about 15 to 30 minutes to start relieving symptoms. When cannabis is utilized in this way, you avoid irritating the lungs and throat with smoke, and the cannabinoids bypass the liver, which allows them to take effect more quickly. Ingesting cannabis via edibles and capsules is another good option for treating flu symptoms. However, when consumed this way, the cannabinoids go through the liver and are metabolized before they enter the bloodstream to take effect. It takes 60 to 90 minutes before any benefit is noticed. Smoking and vaping are not ideal for flu treatment and can irritate the throat and lungs, causing you to feel worse. Vaping cannabis oil often requires thinners, and these may also irritate.”
Cannabis may treat the flu symptoms, like pain, inflammation and fever but it won’t eliminate the virus.
Consuming cannabis when you have a cough, cold, or flu isn’t necessarily bad for you, especially if it’s something you do on a regular basis. But it could make your cough or sore throat worse if you smoke it.
Cannabis reduces inflammation due to the immune response to any pathogen. “Unfortunately, these uncomfortable and sometimes severe symptoms indicate that the body is doing the right thing to eliminate the pathogen. Because the immune response and the subsequent inflammation are essential to clear the virus from your body, dampening the immune response by using cannabis may make it harder to get over the flu. This is why it is generally recommended that you stop cannabis use when you are in the initial and acute stages of the flu. However, cannabis may relieve symptoms when used in the recovery stage of the flu.”
Disclaimer: remember we’re not doctors so please seek the opinion of medical professionals and do your own research. It’s important to keep your doctor in the loop if you’re using recreational drugs or herbal supplements. Your doctor can help you make informed health decisions and monitor for any related complications.