Across the country, mental health issues have increased due to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). At the same time, another trend is emerging: the rise in marijuana use. Medical professionals are concerned that smoking this substance will put people at greater risk during the pandemic.
Why people are turning to marijuana
To better understand the consequences of increased marijuana use during the pandemic, it is first helpful to understand what has caused the overlap between these two health concerns.
Repercussions of the global pandemic include job loss, being isolated from friends and family, and the threat of eviction. These stressors and countless more have people looking for ways to escape the feelings of panic and uncertainty that have plagued them for nearly a year. Many people also have a lot more free time on their hands, which can be emotionally overwhelming when it is tougher to connect with loved ones, and tragic news stories flood the airways. As a result, some are self-medicating with marijuana to get temporary relief from anxiety and loneliness. According to data from the Global Drug Survey, two out of every five people admitted that their use of this drug has increased since the pandemic began.
For those battling mental illnesses, the psychological impact of COVID-19 can be more severe, often exacerbating their symptoms and leaving them searching for relief. According to a study from the Journal of Addictive Diseases, a staggering 91 percent of participants with mental health conditions reported using more marijuana since the beginning of COVID-19. Part of this increase can be attributed to the widespread legalization of marijuana, which some may interpret as a signal that the drug does not pose significant health risks.
How smoking marijuana can increase one’s risk of contracting COVID-19
Despite popular belief, marijuana is not harmless and does pose negative side effects. The risks of using this substance include impaired judgment, memory problems, and even a weakened immune system. Considering the unique challenges that come with protecting one’s health during this pandemic, using a drug that lowers one’s ability to fight off diseases is more dangerous than ever. For those with marijuana use disorder, this is especially true.
Marijuana use disorder occurs when a person’s use of this substance is problematic, and they develop a dependence to it. Substance abuse disorder, which affects an estimated 30 percent of marijuana users, is considered an underlying health condition that can make someone particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Another group that is more at risk is people with respiratory issues. By smoking this drug, the chances of developing COVID-19 related complications such as mild to chronic bronchitis increase. This will cause an individual’s lungs to weaken, compromising their airways from a virus that primarily attacks this part of the body.
How marijuana use can delay treatment for COVID-19
Not only can this substance be harmful to an individual’s health, but it can also hinder a medical professional from providing them the help they need. For instance, a common COVID-19 symptom is a dry cough, which is also common when smoking marijuana. If treatment professionals cannot determine the source of this symptom, they are more likely to misdiagnose or delay diagnosing the individual, which can cause any existing virus symptoms to worsen.
“You don’t want to do anything that’s going to confound the ability of healthcare workers to make a rapid, accurate assessment of what’s going on with you,” says Dr. Mitchell Glass, a pulmonologist and spokesperson for the American Lung Association. If an individual presents any symptoms, like a cough, as a habitual marijuana user, it will make treating this dangerous virus even harder than it already is.
COVID-19 has impacted our lives on a variety of different fronts, with certain actions making us more susceptible to this virus. One of those includes smoking marijuana. Despite the harmful side effects that using this drug can have, the attitude surrounding it has been changing. According to a 2020 poll from Gallup, a record-high 68 percent of respondents say that they are in favor of legalizing this substance nationwide. As the debate surrounding marijuana legalization continues, the evidence laid out above proves that smoking marijuana, especially during the pandemic, is not worth the damage that it can do to you.