Every year it’s the same story—the winter comes and viruses and bacteria start happily dancing in the air, looking for their next victim.
Sore throat and a runny nose are very annoying and, when you have a cold, smoking weed is probably the last thing on your mind.
Although these symptoms usually go away in a few days, some people find it very challenging to stay away from cannabis.
This is especially so for medical patients who need to take their medication on a daily basis.
Ever since it was discovered that cannabis impacts the immune system via the endocannabinoid system, numerous researchers pondered whether pot could help relieve symptoms of a common cold.
I was interested in the same so in this article I’m going to investigate if smoking weed with a cold is a good idea, can cannabinoids speed up the healing process and how to safely use cannabis when sick.
Cold and flu symptoms
Cold and flu (influenza) are respiratory conditions caused by different types of viruses.
Colds are much less severe than influenza viruses, which can last longer and even result in hospitalization in extreme cases.
The common cold usually lasts for up to a week and its symptoms are mild fatigue, body aches, sore throat, sneezing, coughing and a runny nose. It usually doesn’t induce fever.
Flu symptoms can resemble the ones from a cold, but if you’re experiencing a high fever, chills, headaches, severe muscle aches, dry cough, sore throat, nausea and vomiting it’s most likely the flu. Flu lasts for up to two weeks.
Both cold and flu are transferred from person to person by physical contact or through air.
These viruses bind to the ICAM-1 protein which is found in the outer mucous membrane. The virus then penetrates the membrane and makes the entire mucous system go into overdrive.
Once that happens, mucous membranes in the throat and nose get inflamed, and that’s why we feel sore and congested when we get a cold. This causes an immune response as the body recognizes and fights the unwelcome guests.
Can marijuana help ease the symptoms of a cold?
Cold medicines usually contain cough suppressants, antihistamines (to suppress inflammation), and expectorants (to stop the mucus building up). Most of these over-the-counter remedies try to ease the symptoms so you can get on with your day to day.
However, if we look at cold symptoms separately, it looks like pot can be used to treat some of them.
Several compounds found in cannabis (especially CBD) are known as potent anti-inflammatory agents. (1)
The correct dose of CBD can reduce inflammation in the joints, muscles and even ease pain.
As previously mentioned, inflammation is a normal response of the body to an infection. The inflammation in our lungs, nose and throat is what makes our life a living hell when we are sick.
Using simple logic, we can conclude that CBD can be used to relieve inflammation and help us breathe normally again.
Cannabis is also well known for its painkilling properties. (2)
When struck with a cold or a flu, headaches and body aches are very common. You might have noticed it yourself—when you’re sick your muscles often hurt.
Other cannabis compounds also showed anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.
Cannabinoids THC, CBC and CBG are known for their analgesic and anti-inflammatory traits.
Some terpenes like linalool, eucalyptol and limonene also exhibit these properties.
Ever since its discovery, which spanned over decades and included several isolated scientific discoveries, the endocannabinoid system has been closely associated with the functioning of the immune system. (3)
Whenever the body doesn’t produce enough internal endocannabinoids, the immune system goes haywire.
By introducing cannabinoids from the cannabis plant, the immune system regains its “harmony”, which is also dubbed as a state of homeostasis—a balance between separate but interconnected systems of our body.
Some early research suggests that a dose of THC administered intravenously can ease artificially induced coughs. (4)
Although the study in question was published in 1976, it gives scientists a base for future research.
Furthermore, cannabis (THC in particular) is a powerful bronchodilator and was used as a medicine for asthma, for a very long time before cannabis became prohibited. (5)
This means that THC can diminish resistance and increase airflow to the lungs, allowing for easier breathing.
Both cold and flu also cause a loss of appetite, and cannabis is actually known to be a very potent appetite stimulant.
Last but not the least, cannabis is known for its sedative effect. When someone is sick this comes quite in handy, because people usually find it difficult to sleep when they’re battling an infection.
Is smoking weed while having a cold a good idea?
There still isn’t any scientific research that focuses on how cannabis affects cold or influenza.
However, we have strong evidence that cannabis could help manage some of the symptoms associated with them.
How to use weed when you have a cold?
If you have a cold, you should firstly avoid smoking.
Smoke will undoubtedly irritate your airways and, since they would already be inflamed from the infection, you should avoid aggravating them further.
The healthiest way to use cannabis if you’re suffering from a cold is through a whole-plant extract (for example cannabis oil) or through an edible product, like a pot brownie.
If you’re planning to go with edibles make sure to take very little, because ingesting too much while having a cold (or even worse, the flu) could make you feel even worse.
If you’re a medical cannabis user, consuming weed when battling an infection can make some of the symptoms go away, but you should be sure to avoid smoking.
If you do not need cannabis to keep some of your other symptoms in check, then you might be better off with an alternative treatment option.
- Nagarkatti P, Pandey R, Rieder SA, Hegde VL, Nagarkatti M; Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs; Future Medicinal Chemistry; October 2009; 1(7):1333-1349
- Hosking RD, Zajicek JP; Therapeutic potential of cannabis in pain medicine; British Journal of Anaesthesia; July 2008; 101(1):59-68
- Pandey R, Mousawy K, Nagarkatti M, Nagarkatti P; Endocannabinoids and immune regulation; Pharmacology Research; August 2009; 60(2):85-92
- Gordon R, Gordon RJ, Sofia D; Antitussive activity of some naturally occurring cannabinoids in anesthetized cats; European Journal Of Pharmacology; February 1976; 35(2):309-313
- Hartley JP, Nogrady SG, Seaton A; Bronchodilator effect of delta1-tetrahydrocannabinol; British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology; June 1978; 5(6):523-525
Dr.Woods July 6, 2019 at 3:10 pm
I am 75 years old and have been a heavy pot smoker for over 45 years. I have not had one cough, cold, or respiratory problem in all that time. I think the cannabis compounds are toxic to these bugs.
Joe February 9, 2020 at 2:24 am
For relief from the aches and discomfort of a cold so I can sleep I'll take i nice heavy indica. Pop an edible and then puff on what you can. I usually find that a few puffs will actually act as an expectorant. Lots of water and some sugar-free fishermans friends and that's it. Besides the anti-inflammatory effect using cannabis just lets the cold run its course. Many cold remedies at the pharmacy actually supress this process.