7 Reasons Why Smoking Cannabis May Increase Your Risks in COVID-19

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If you don’t smoke cannabis, now is not the time to start. If you smoke it recreationally, now may be the time to stop, given the increased risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms and possibly confounding the diagnosis.

This the advice from Dr. Tammy Penhollow, a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, specializing in anesthesiology, pain management, and regenerative medicine. Having over 20 years of experience has helped her to cultivate a passion for regenerative medicine and holistic healing. Dr. Penhollow practices at Precision Regenerative Medicine in the greater Phoenix area.

Here are the reasons why it’s bad for you, according to her.

  • The WHO endorses a smoke-free initiative—both of tobacco and cannabis, and is further supported by findings by Chinese researchers showing COVID-19 disease progression was significantly higher in patients with a history of smoking. 
  • Tobacco and cannabis are not equal, and cannabis may be worse: inhalations are 66% larger in puff volume and 33% larger in inhaled volume than tobacco inhalations. Cannabis smokers inhale 5x the concentration of carboxyhemoglobin (carbon monoxide in the red blood cells) and hold their breath 4x longer.  
  • Smoking causes a degree of inflammation to the small airways. 
  • Cannabinoids can trigger the release of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) unique immune cells through the activation of cannabinoid receptors.  These actively suppress the immune system.  
  • Smoking cannabis daily can damage the lungs over time similar to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Those with COPD and mod/severe asthma are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 and ventilator therapy, which are associated with poor patient outcomes. 
  • In light of the shift to telemedicine, presenting with a dry cough from the sensitivity and reactivity of the airway from the smoke may look like the COVID-19 cough and make it harder to make a rapid, accurate assessment of what’s going on. 
  • Many use cannabis for anxiety, but the mental effects are not limited to reduction in anxiety and can cause change in critical thinking and assessing the situation.  As examples, an acutely intoxicated patient may not be able to control their thought process regarding decisions to stay home, go to the ER, or consent to being placed on a ventilator.

Dr. Tammy Penhollow practices at Precision Regenerative Medicine in Scottsdale, Arizona, where develops individualized treatment plans for musculoskeletal and spine interventions with PRP and bone marrow aspirate using image guidance, as well as micro-needling with PRP for skin, hair and anti-aging conditions. She also stays active in teaching as an Instructor in Anesthesiology for the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science and as a Supplemental Consultant for the Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.

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