Apparently, Colorado has joined other states in determining that medical marijuana dispensaries are just as essential as pharmacies and food stores so that they are not required to close and can remain open and provide products to citizens who want them.


Around the state, we have witnessed long lines of people at dispensaries waiting to buy marijuana products. My sincere hope is that dispensary staff members are following the message seriously that we should be supportive and kind to others and that they are educating and strongly encouraging clients to not smoke or vape the cannabis products they are purchasing.


There is a great deal of research demonstrating that smoking or vaping can significantly increase the risk of acquiring a viral infection and once someone is exposed to COVID-19, smoking or vaping can make the consequences of the infection worse.


The National Academies of Sciences, Medicine and Engineering publication, “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids, 2017” reported that regular cannabis use was associated with airway injury, worsening respiratory symptoms and more frequent chronic bronchitis episodes.


Other studies have demonstrated that THC administration diminishes the immune response against the influenza virus and cannabis use can weaken the immune system, leading to pneumonia. This is also true of smoking or vaping tobacco.


Data from China indicates that current or former smokers were 14 times more at risk of developing severe coronavirus infections and 14 percent more at risk for pneumonia than those who never smoked.


The fatality rate among those with confirmed coronavirus infections was 65 percent higher in men than women. This correlates with the reports that 54 percent of men in China are current smokers compared to 3.4 percent of women.


Similar data is emerging from Korea and Italy. Recent CDC data indicate that nearly 40 percent of Americans hospitalized for COVID-19 are between the ages of 20 and 54 and it is believed that vaping may be driving the rise in young people hospitalized for corona virus. This is very important information that people need to be aware of.


The risk is not just for the person smoking or vaping tobacco or marijuana. There also is increased risk for those experiencing secondhand exposures. Especially vaping puts the people exposed in a secondhand fashion at high risk.


If you watch people vaping, they normally disgorge a large cloud of vapor out around them that goes more than 6 feet. If they are exposed, the virus will be in that cloud.


Then if they are vaping THC, the oily droplets fall on surfaces resulting in third hand exposure to the virus and THC. Understanding these risks will help people be more protected.


This is an especially important time to encourage and help people to quit smoking and vaping.


The higher the THC potency of the marijuana product (bud or concentrated hash oil products) results in increased susceptibility to addiction to marijuana use and this makes it very difficult for many people to quit using. The use of higher potency THC can also result in more consequences such as psychotic symptoms and cyclical vomiting.


There already was a significant increase in people with these symptoms coming into emergency departments in Colorado prior to COVID. If people continue to come into emergency departments with these symptoms as a result of believing their ability to use marijuana is “essential,” they increase their own risk of exposure to the virus, as well as increasing the risk of passing that infection on to others. They also will impede the system where we need to devote most every resource to people with COVID-19 infection.


While there is evidence that marijuana can be helpful for some medical problems, there is no legitimate research that demonstrates THC greater than 10 percent is good for anything medically. Since most marijuana products in medical dispensaries in Colorado have a THC potency much higher than 10 percnet, it is hard to justify how they are essential to people’s welfare in the COVID-19 pandemic.


Libby Stuyt, MD


Addiction Psychiatrist


Pueblo, Colorado