The pandemic has impacted almost every facet of human activity, and the cannabis industry has not been left out of the trend. However, it’s a mixed bag for COVID and weed. The links between Cannabis and COVID cut across consumer behavior and economic effects.
Here, we’re taking a closer look into the impacts that COVID has had on the cannabis industry, both negative and positive.
The Relationship Between Cannabis and COVID: Facts & Figures
During the midst of the pandemic, on the consumer side, people wondered if cannabis and cannabis products affected COVID. This is no surprise given that the health benefits of cannabis are undisputed. Now, consumers are curious to know if the wonder plant can help fight the virus.
Quickly, Google searches started reflecting that, too: “Does smoking weed help fight COVID? “Can CBD cure COVID?”, “Is it safe to smoke weed when you have COVID?” or “Are there any links between COVID and marijuana?”
On the economic side, cannabis is one industry that has benefited from the pandemic. COVID wreaked havoc on economic activities worldwide, but data shows that the growth of the cannabis industry has hit new heights. Cannabis companies are hiring more, retailers are hitting sales milestones, and consumers are purchasing larger and larger quantities of weed.
This strange balance of negative and positive impacts has left the cannabis industry in a bit of a weird place since the pandemic first began. To help weave through the misinformation and find facts, we’ve outlined all the major points you should be familiar with in terms of cannabis and COVID — both economic and social.
Can Cannabis Cure COVID?
Science suggests a relationship between COVID and weed. Since the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, cannabis consumers have been wondering if cannabis can hurt or help with COVID.
There are few definite answers (if any), but there has been much research on the possible relationship between COVID and marijuana. Currently, the verdict points in both directions. Experts say cannabis consumption can aid coronavirus recovery and exacerbate the effects of the virus.
CBD and Terpenes May Help Treat Severe COVID
So far, most of the evidence indicates that CBD or terpenes from cannabis could treat cytokine storms in COVID patients. Cytokine storms occur when the immune system produces excess cytokines, leading to inflammation and death of COVID patients.
In a peer-reviewed article published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, researchers from the University of Nebraska and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute pointed out that cytokine storms in COVID patients may be treated with CBD.
Cytokines are proteins in the body that are a significant part of its immune response. They trigger inflammation to fight infections. This action is crucial to defending the body against infections, but sometimes, when the condition is severe, the body releases too many cytokines into the blood quickly; this results in what is known as a cytokine storm.
A cytokine storm can be quite dangerous. It causes high fever, inflammation, difficulty breathing, nausea, and in some cases, death resulting from organ failure. Researchers say CBD can potentially eliminate cytokine storms.
In Georgia, another study from Augusta University found that CBD significantly reduced cytokine storms and acute respiratory distress syndrome in mice. According to the authors of the report, the symptoms of cytokine storms were “totally or partially reversed and returned to the level and condition of the normal after treatment with CBD.”
They concluded by saying: “considering all potential regulatory effects of CBD as well as the vast distribution of endocannabinoid system in the body, it is plausible that CBD may be used as a therapeutic candidate in the treatment of various inflammatory conditions including COVID-19 and other virus-induced ARDS.”
Israeli cannabis R&D companies, Eybna and CannaSoul Analytics, also carried out multiple studies. These demonstrated that CBD and a blend of anti-inflammatory terpenes could significantly reduce the levels of certain cytokines linked to severe cases of COVID.
Cannabis May Increase the Risk of COVID Infection
Again, the link between marijuana and COVID is not entirely benign. Research has also established a negative relationship between consuming cannabis and contracting COVID.
A recently released study conducted by researchers at the University of Western Australia compared COVID infection rates and cannabis use. They found that cannabis use is linked to an increased risk of contracting the virus. The authors of the study state that cannabis use is a COVID danger by saying, “Cannabis thus joins tobacco as a SARS2-CoV risk factor.”
Complication of Infection
Dr. Peter Grindpoon is a primary care physician, medical cannabis expert, and teacher trained at Harvard Medical School. He said that, in theory, cannabis might be a risk factor. He also noted that the potential ability of CBD to reduce cytokine storms in severe COVID cases might worsen the disease for patients in an earlier phase of the infection. So, CBD may be beneficial or detrimental depending on the patient’s stage of infection.
Grinspoon said: “In the first part, you need to mount an immune response to fight off the virus,” adding that “if you get a severe case… it’s your system going haywire, and you need immunosuppressants.”
The ability of cannabis to suppress immune response can help when the immune system goes into overdrive and produces too many cytokines and triggering a cytokine system. However, in the early phase of COVID infection, the immune system is the first line of defense. It needs to mount a robust response; hence, immune suppression is detrimental.
Grinspoon also explained that consumers who smoke cannabis might be at a higher risk of infection because smoking affects the lungs, and a weak lung will be easily infected. He says, “A lot of people smoke it, and smoking does cause mild chronic bronchitis.” He went on to explain that “it does stand to reason that if your lungs are irritated and inflamed, you’re more set up for having lung damage than if your lungs are in pristine condition.”
Transmission of the Disease
Grinspoon pointed to the behaviors associated with weed culture, like smoke sessions. Sharing joints and pipes are factors that can easily spread infection. He urged consumers to switch to vapes, edibles, and tinctures. Grinspoon also advised that you should not share cannabis accessories that touch your mouth.
Economic Effects of COVID on the Cannabis Industry
On the economic front, the cannabis industry has been affected in demand, legalization, and investment. The connections between marijuana and COVID have been positive for market demand and mixed for investment, but negative for legalization.
The Pandemic Increased the Demand for Cannabis
COVID has been good news for the cannabis industry as demand hits new heights. With the stress of the lockdown, Americans turned to weed for relief.
Geoff Miller, director of Cannafi Group, a cannabis finance business based in Guernsey, said: “The North American industry has grown enormously during the pandemic. Everyone has been stuck at home, and recreational cannabis has been available, while knowledge of medical cannabis has increased too. So, demand has shot up very significantly.”
Sales hit $20 billion in 2020, and specialists project it to reach $45.9 billion in 2025. They also expect demand to increase with medical cannabis legal in 36 states, and recreational marijuana legal in 18 states.
In the first days of the pandemic, sales slumped when dispensaries shut down due to the lockdown. Thankfully, parties deemed the industry an essential service in US and Canada; this caused demand and sales to not only rebound but also skyrocket. Online orders helped drive demand. The restriction on movement meant that the people were at home, so consumers went online to get their weed.
Also, consumers flush with COVID stimulus checks had more free cash to spend on weed, and they bought bags of it.
Mixed News for Investment
Before COVID hit, Foreign Direct Investment in the cannabis industry experienced exponential growth, but COVID disrupted the trend. “It is much more difficult to do international transactions when you can’t travel, and you certainly don’t want to be developing new operations when you can’t actually go and visit the site,” says Miller.
It’s not all bad news for investors. As more states legalize cannabis, potential markets open up, and investors are eager to tap into them. It was estimated that the cannabis industry had 321,000 full-time jobs in 2020, up from 234,700 in 2019. Foreign investment may have slowed, but it hasn’t harmed the industry; strong demand has pulled in savvy domestic investors who see an opportunity in a sector that is predicted to go from strength to strength.
COVID Is Bad News for Legalization
Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug federally. Thus, one significant downside of the pandemic has been the stagnation of legislative efforts to change weed’s legal status as the world struggled to respond to the virus. Legalization would have opened up an industry estimated to be worth billions of dollars in revenue and taxes, not to mention job creation.
Despite the setback, industry experts are optimistic that legalization is on the horizon. Steven Hawkins, CEO of the US Cannabis Council and executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project said: “I agree that it’s an uphill slog to see federal legalization, but what we’re putting on the table is inevitability. When you get to the point when half of the country has legalized adult use, we have now set a stage for inevitability. And that begins to change the tone and tenor in Washington.”
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