Cannabis for colds and flu? Here’s what the experts say
It comes on like a freight train: sore throat, stuffy nose, cough, body aches, and malaise. And that’s just the common cold. The flu ups the ante with all those symptoms plus fever, severe headache, and extreme exhaustion—in some adult cases vomiting and diarrhea, although those are more common in kids.
After about five to seven days (of eternity), most healthy adults will bounce back from both colds and the flu. But what can you do in the meantime?
The medical community agrees non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen or Tylenol) are good at treating aches and pains, but that’s about it. Even popular home remedies don’t cut it in the science world: randomized controlled trials of echinacea, vitamin C, and even garlic found these cold and flu go-tos were no better than placebos for reducing symptoms. And Mom’s chicken soup? A 2000 study found it had mild anti-inflammatory benefits to help alleviate symptoms, but not by much.
So…wouldn’t it just be nice to get high and feel better?
What the experts say
We tried speaking with the College of Family Physicians of Canada, but they declined to comment, saying there is not sufficient research to confirm the impact of cannabis on colds and the flu.
From a naturopathic perspective, we did reach Dr. Shawn Meirovici, a Toronto-based ND who specializes in pain management. He reiterates there is no direct link between cannabis use and treating colds and the flu. However, he said there is new evidence suggesting symptoms can be managed if cannabis is used responsibly.
The cannabinoids THC and CBD have been shown to have pain-relieving, sleep-inducing, and anti-inflammatory properties.
As for flu symptoms, he says cannabis may also have “antipyretic or fever-reducing properties, due to its ability to suppress the immune system.”
Plus, if you’re one of those ounce-of-prevention types, he says some research suggests CBD has anti-viral properties.
But before you light up that bong…
Think about it: heat and smoke are the last things your throat needs when it’s already itchy and sore. Then, imagine hot smoke entering phlegmy lungs; Meirovici cautions that smoking can further irritate mucus membranes, making a cough or sore throat even worse.
And before you pop a canna-lemon drop, he points out the immune-suppressing properties mentioned earlier could potentially prolong a viral infection. “That being said, the research has been primarily in vitro or in rats; there hasn’t been any studies on humans to date,” he says.
Feel-better food ideas
If eating cannabis appeals to you on your sick day(s), we caught up with Robyn Griggs Lawrence, author of The Cannabis Kitchen Cookbook. She says when she’s feeling under the weather she turns to:
- bone broth (store-bought or homemade) simmered with cannabis flower
- smoothies made with infused hemp milk, frozen blueberries, and probiotic yogurt
- overnight oats with apples, wild honey, and cannabis-infused coconut milk
Passing around a joint amongst friends is a fun but quick way to spread germs, so be careful who you light up with.
And Meirovici offers this parting wisdom: “Passing around a joint amongst friends is a fun but quick way to spread germs, so be careful who you light up with.”
Can You Smoke Marijuana if You Have a Cold?
Colds and flu affect everybody from time to time. While sometimes these common conditions can be nothing more than a mild inconvenience, other times they can knock you right off your feet.
One of the major problems with colds and flu is that viruses rather than bacteria cause them. Therefore, they can’t be cured with antibiotics, and all you can really do is rest up and let your immune system do its business.
However, there are steps you can take to relieve your symptoms and make life more comfortable while you wait. While many people reach straight for the medicine cabinet when they catch a cold or flu, others would prefer to take a more natural approach. Could this include cannabis, an herb which is becoming well-known for its various medicinal properties?
In this article, we ask whether smoking weed with a cold will help or merely make matters worse. Read on to find out.
Colds, Cannabis, and Immunity
Most cold symptoms can be attributed to inflammation, your immune system’s response to injury or infection. When your immune cells detect an invading virus, they release chemicals called cytokines. These act as a signal, summoning white blood cells to the area to destroy the pathogen and neutralize the infection as quickly as possible.
While this is a necessary and healthy process, cytokines have the unfortunate side effect of generating inflammation and causing redness, swelling, and pain in the affected area. Since cold viruses enter the body via the respiratory tract, this inflammation leads to the classic cold symptoms of:
- Sore throat
- Sinus swelling
- Blocked or runny nose
- Aches and pains
This is where weed comes into the picture. We know that cannabis can help with conditions such as chronic pain by reducing inflammation, and it may help to relieve cold symptoms in a similar way.
Scientists are still working to understand precisely how marijuana influences inflammation and immunity, but it is likely due to the way that the compounds in cannabis act on what is known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is a collection of receptors on the surface of your body’s cells. They are designed to bind with chemicals called endocannabinoids, compounds produced by your body which play an essential role in many different biological functions.
The phytocannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant can also bind with these receptors, which is why they have such a significant impact on the human body. In terms of immunity, a specific group of receptors known as CB2 receptors is thought to be involved.
CB2 receptors can be found throughout the body, but they are especially prevalent in the immune system. When cannabinoids bind with these receptors, they appear to dampen the immune response by modulating the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. This means less inflammation, and less inflammation means your cold symptoms could begin to disappear.
Interestingly, echinacea, an herb known for its immune-boosting properties also contains compounds which act on CB2 receptors, much as the cannabinoids found in marijuana do.
How Smoking Weed Could Help Your Cold Symptoms
By binding with CB2 receptors and modulating the immune system, weed may help to relieve some of the most troublesome symptoms of a cold. Marijuana could be beneficial for colds and flu in the following ways:
- Reducing inflammation
- Relieving pain
- Improving sleep
In the short-term, cannabis use may even help to relax your airways making it easier to breathe.
As we have already explained, cannabinoids reduce inflammation by acting on CB2 receptors in the ECS. However, marijuana also contains other compounds such as terpenes and flavonoids, both of which are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Due to its anti-inflammatory effects, cannabis may help to ease the aches and pains associated with colds and flu. It could also help with sore throats, headaches, and sinusitis.
When you have a cold, your sleep can suffer, making you feel even worse the following day. The good news is that through its interaction with the ECS, weed may help to improve your sleep and help you get the rest you need to recover.
Relaxing the Airways
Research has shown that one of the acute effects of cannabis is bronchodilation, meaning that it opens up your airways and potentially makes it easier to breathe. However, we all know that in the long run smoking can damage your lungs, which brings us neatly to our next point; why smoking weed with a cold may not be the best idea.
Can Smoking Weed Make Your Cold Worse?
Although there are many ways that weed might help with your cold symptoms, there are some possible drawbacks too. The most obvious of these is that cannabis is often smoked and, of course, smoking is bad for your lungs.
Smoking weed with a cold could cause further irritation to your throat and lungs and make symptoms such as coughing worse. Furthermore, regular marijuana use has been found to increase your risk of lung problems such as chronic bronchitis, especially when mixed with tobacco.
Another downside to smoking weed with a cold is that it might increase symptoms such as dizziness. This is because smoking pot can cause your blood pressure to fall suddenly causing you to feel light-headed or dizzy. While this may not be a common problem for experienced users, novice smokers may be especially susceptible while already fighting off an infection.
Furthermore, cannabis (especially edibles) can cause nausea or stomach upsets in some people. Not what you want if you are already feeling under the weather!
The final thing to bear in mind is that colds and flu are highly infectious. This means that anybody who shares your joint or bong while you are sick is likely to be infected too. While your friends might thank you for your generosity initially, they probably won’t be so grateful a week later when they are laid up in their beds!
To summarize, here are the potential pros and cons of smoking weed with a cold:
|Smoking with a cold||1||2||3||4|
|Pros||Cannabis could calm the immune system and reduce inflammation||Marijuana can help to relieve aches and pains||Cannabis may improve sleep||In the short-term, cannabis acts as a bronchodilator and may ease breathing|
|Cons||Smoking weed can irritate the lungs and cause coughing||Using cannabis can cause dizziness in some people||Cannabis may upset your stomach||Sharing joints and bongs increases the risk of cross-infection|
Although smoking weed with a cold may not be the best idea, there are plenty of other ways to benefit from marijuana without irritating your lungs.
The Best Ways to Take Weed When You Have a Cold
Using a vaporizer is thought to be less harmful than traditional smoking methods. This is especially relevant if you have a cold, but also important to bear in mind for any regular cannabis smoker. However, cheap vaporizers and e-liquids may not be much better than smoking in the long run as they can still contain some pretty nasty chemicals. A high-quality vaporizer may be expensive, but we think it is a truly worthwhile investment for protecting your future health.
You can also try edibles, oil extractions, or even brew yourself a cup of soothing cannabis tea. You can make your tea even more cold-friendly by adding a spoonful of soothing honey or pairing weed with other anti-inflammatory herbs such as fresh ginger or turmeric.
You could even try adding some ground up bud to hot water and inhaling the steam. Although this is an unproven method, it may be helpful for some.
Can You Smoke Weed and Take Cold Medicines Together?
If you want to maximize your relief from cold symptoms, you might be wondering whether it’s safe to use cannabis and take cold medicines at the same time.
While there are no known interactions between marijuana and over-the-counter cold remedies, you should exercise caution using the two together. Both weed and some cold medicines can cause drowsiness, and that could mean that you feel extra groggy if you take both. Therefore, it may be best to choose one or the other, especially during the day or if you have important tasks to complete.
Smoking Weed with a Cold: Final Thoughts
Many people swear that using marijuana helps to relieve a cold, and it is easy to see why. With its anti-inflammatory, analgesic effects, weed could offer relief from many of the most annoying cold symptoms, and help you to get back on your feet.
However, it is clear that smoking with a cold (and in general) is not a great idea, and could make symptoms such as coughing or chest infections worse. Therefore, it is probably wise to choose alternative methods of taking your weed while you are sick, at least.
If you have ever used marijuana to treat a cold, we would love to hear from you! Comment below and let us know what you think; should you smoke weed with a cold? Yay or nay?