Cannabis and Covid-19: a study proposal

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Does smoking cannabis have an effect on the course of Covid-19 disease? Does smoking make one more susceptible to infection? Anecdotal reports suggest smokers of tobacco have some protection from the virus, and studies are underway to determine if nicotine patches afford the same protection as smoking. Since it is well known that cannabis smoke is much less harmful than tobacco smoke, can a study be done to see if cannabis has a protective effect against the virus?

I believe that yes, a study is not only possible, but indeed, all the elements are in place for a robust investigation. The NJ medical cannabis program provides the backdrop. The dispensaries remained open as an essential service. During the early phases of the NJ Covid-19 lockdown, the dispensaries were swamped with large numbers of medical cannabis patients, with some of them turning away patients due to overwhelming demand. This provides a cohort of known cannabis consumers, most of whom smoke or vape the medication. There is rich data on the quantities and types of cannabis purchased by this cohort, and this information could be extracted protecting the identities of the individuals.

We then compare the cannabis cohort with a control group from the NJ population. Since NJ is one of the hotspots for Covid-19 with many infections, the control cohort can be assembled to reflect the pre-existing conditions that all NJ MMJ patients must report. Thus, we are studying an ill population, one that may be predisposed to more severe Covid-19. Comparing the outcomes of the cannabis and control cohorts provides the data to inform conclusions and recommendations.

While the study is limited because it is retrospective, it will give a near real-time readout on the effects of cannabis on Covid-19. This important data will inform the cannabis consumer of the risks (or benefits) of cannabis use on this devastating illness.

I challenge the NJ MMJ program to team with independent virus and cannabis researchers to do this study.