Cannabis, COVID-19, and our Lungs

Written By Alexandra Arnett, photographed by Danny Avina

Shortly before the world was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, the US was suffering another lung crisis. Vape pens were all over the news in 2019 for reports of illnesses and deaths related to smoking them. The most recent update by the CDC was on February 18th, 2020. It showed that there have been 2,807 cases of illnesses related to nicotine or cannabis vapes, with 68 deaths. Among these patients, 2,022 of them reported which substance was being vaped, with 82% reported using THC containing products, while 33% reporting the use of exclusive THC containing products. Of the affected, 50% reported where their product was sourced, with 16% having obtained them from retail businesses and 78% obtaining them from friends, online, or other dealers. Overall, since the last article in February, there has not been a large rise in cases. However, it’s possible that the pandemic took front row for CDC priorities and it simply was not viable to keep reporting vaping illnesses, especially with what we know about the virus.

As a recap from the last Cannabis & The Lungs piece, we know that cannabis, specifically the terpene pinene and the cannabinoid THC, are both bronchodilators. As a bronchodilator, they help open up the airways to the lungs and may even help with conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma. However, there are several ingredients that companies have been found to use in vape cartridges that have not shown to be safe for vaping—or have not been tested for inhalation safety at all. These ingredients include MCT oil, natural and artificial flavorings and non-cannabis derived terpenes.

So far, the vaping crisis seems to have been subdued and the focus has been shifted. Other than Colorado, no other states pursued permanent bans on anything other than Vitamin E acetate. Currently, in Oregon, the OLCC is in the process of putting together a cannabis vape-additive ban which would ban all additives other than natural cannabis-derived terpenes. This means no more natural and artificial flavoring, no non-cannabis-derived terpenes, and no MCT oil or other additives. California has similar pending legislation but it would allow for botanically derived terpenes and other natural flavors. 

More recently, COVID-19 and cannabis have been in the news as researchers have been scrambling to find some sort of medicine that can help ease symptoms and/or treat the effects of the virus. As mentioned in the paragraphs above, we know that THC and pinene are bronchodilators. Currently, researchers have been analyzing CBD and specific terpene formulations for potential to help fight against the virus. 

CBD has been found to be an ACE2 inhibitor and it reduces inflammatory cytokine production. The inhibition of ACE2 expression plays an important role in how COVID-19 enters host cells. When ACE2 expression is inhibited, the virus has a more difficult time entering a host cell. In relation to cytokine production, COVID-19 creates what is called a “cytokine storm.” This cytokine storm is the release of so many cytokines that they become harmful to the host cells. Researchers in Israel are currently looking at CBD in combination with a terpene formulation. This terpene formulation is a blend of 30 various terpenes that have shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. While the research has not gone through any clinical trials, the results the research has produced is promising information. 

Neither the author nor Green Eugene endorses anything in this article as medical advice for treating or curing COVID-19. If you are having symptoms please get tested and speak with your doctor. Remember to wear a mask, practice social distancing out in public spaces, and avoid large crowds.

Cannabis and the Lungs

written by Alexandra Arnett @calyx.alex, photographed by Nina Compeau

All too often you will see people make the erroneous claim that smoking cannabis does not harm your lungs. This misconception is often conflated with the statement “smoking cannabis is better than smoking cigarettes,” and while that may have some truth to it, there are still reasons why cannabis smoke is also harmful. This harm comes not so much from the cannabis itself, but the method of inhalation. Cannabis can be inhaled in a various number of ways, from rolling a joint, packing a bowl in a bong or pipe, using a vaporizer or getting fancy with a dab rig. Among other reasons, devices such as a dab rig or a vape pen make research surrounding the effects of inhaling cannabis difficult to conduct.

The current research that has been published on the topic often fails to control for tobacco usage, methods of inhalation and variables like whether or not the flower was free of mold and pesticides. Research has indicated that cannabis smoke has similar carcinogenic effects as tobacco, but there is not a strong correlation between cannabis smoke and lung cancer. Though cannabis inhalation can cause the same symptoms that tobacco inhalation can, like coughing, wheezing and chronic bronchitis, there are some important benefits. Unlike tobacco inhalation, cannabis inhalation is not a primary factor in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), nor does it reduce your lungs’ forced expiratory volume. In fact, research has shown that cannabis inhalation may increase your lungs’ forced vital capacity. The active component in cannabis, delta 9-THC, has even been demonstrated as a bronchodilator along with the terpene pinene.

If you’re concerned about the health of your lungs, there are a few things you can do! The number one suggestion would be to use methods that don’t involve inhalation, like edibles or tinctures. If you like cannabis flower and prefer to inhale, try out a flower vaporizer! By vaping cannabis with heat instead of combusting it with fire, the inhalation of several carcinogens can be avoided. The best products on the market for flower vaporizers include the PAX 2 and PAX 3. For a long-term quality vape to use at home, the original Volcano vaporizer is the number one choice.

To keep with your old school style of a pipe, bong or joint, there are a few simple tricks to create fewer carcinogens from the smoke. One is to stick with glass smoking pieces that have a longer stem. If you’re looking to use a bong, a long neck and an ice catcher design to help cool the smoke is best. In addition, use only filtered water, this helps provide the cleanest filter for the smoke. The best way to light your flower in a pipe or bong is by first lighting a candle (the more natural the better), then light up some hemp wick using the candle and from here you can light your flower with the hemp wick! Through this method you can reduce the inhalation of toxic carcinogens that come with using lighters, this can also be used for lighting joints. In addition to using hemp wick to light a joint, use a crutch or filter and stick with unbleached hemp or rice papers. We have probably all had our experiences with smoking roaches from old joints, but this is not really healthy as it is concentrated with tars and other toxins.

Vape pens fall into a unique category. These pens are made using either ceramic, glass or metal coils, and depending on the battery can be vaped at various temperatures. Words of wisdom for purchasing vape pens include purchasing from brands that don’t use artificial flavorings, botanically-derived terpenes, or MCT oil. Along with using the lowest heat seating, this limits the risk of inhaling any harmful compounds or toxins.

Moving into using dab rigs, there are some very important notes to make. The first is to remember that products used with a dab rig are likely made with hydrocarbons. It is very important to be purchasing these products from a legal dispensary where you know the product has been tested for residual toxins. Temperature is extremely important when using a dab rig and there are a few reasons for this. One is that certain terpenes, such as myrcene, can turn into toxic compounds if heated at high temperatures. Your dab nail should never turn red hot while heating for a dab—you should stop as soon as you see a color change. Dabs should not be taken at temperatures of more than 600 degrees Fahrenheit. The safest nails to use on a dab rig are ceramic or quartz glass that is made in America. Don’t forget to let your nail cool for just under a minute before dropping that dab in your banger!

Overall, the research we do have to go off of tells us that smoke inhalation of any kind is not particularly best for your lungs. Until more research on the subject is done, the precautions listed above are the best steps you can take right now to protect the health of your lungs.