- There aren’t studies on the link between vaping marijuana or nicotine and COVID-19 risk, but lung health experts are still concerned.
- The novel coronavirus attaches deep inside the lungs. Since it’s a new pathogen that the body hasn’t encountered before, it has a better chance of exploiting any weakness in the lungs.
- Regular vaping has been shown to damage the lungs, which could make them susceptible to more severe infection and complications.
- Data on critical coronavirus patients has shown that many have underlying lung disease like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, and emphysema.
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In recent years, e-cigarettes and marijuana vapes have skyrocketed in popularity.
The devices were first touted as safer alternatives to smoking, but evidence suggest vapes are also dangerous for lung health.
For that reason, lung health experts are warning vape users to reconsider their habits – particularly now that the coronavirus pandemic has hit.
Data on COVID-19 – a disease that was only identified a few months ago – is thin. Researchers have barely got to grips with understanding how the disease works, let alone how it is influenced by habits such as vaping nicotine or marijuana.
But lung health experts say they don’t need COVID-19-specific data to warn people that e-cigarettes probably aren’t a good idea right now, and that they could put people at a higher risk for severe symptoms like shortness of breath and pneumonia.
“From my standpoint, meshing [together] all of the variables that put in things that are not air into your lungs, I would view them all kind of in the same category,” Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonologist and national spokesperson for the American Lung Association, previously told Insider. “The best and most efficient data we have is about tobacco and its impact on COVID-19,” he said.
“For e-cigarette and marijuana use, the data isn’t as robustly collected,” so vaping products, including nicotine e-cigarettes and cannabis-containing vapes, should be put in the same category as traditional cigarettes in order to draw risk-related conclusions about the substances, Galiatsatos said.
Vaping can damage the lungs and make them more vulnerable to infections and related complications
Previous studies have shown regular vaping can damage the lungs, and since a large number of critical-condition coronavirus patients often have underlying lung issues, doctors are concerned how vaping could make the lung more susceptible to complications.
“If you get the infection and you have good, healthy lungs that aren’t being combated every day by toxins, whether it’s from inhaled marijuana or inhaled combustible cigarettes or inhaled electronic cigarettes, you’re allowing your lungs to be at the best capacity they can to try and fight off this infection,” Galiatsatos said.
Preliminary CDC data found that chronic lung diseases including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, and emphysema, were common underlying conditions in hospitalized patients in the US.
The CDC was able to analyse 7,162 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases and found that 656 of them, or 9.2%, reported having a chronic lung condition.
Vape and e-cigarette users may feel OK, but they’re still at risk
Everyone should be cautious about vaping, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, even if you don’t have troubling breathing or a cough, according to Dr. Barry J. Make, a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health.
“The lung disease you usually get from smoking and vaping and marijuana doesn’t occur until you’ve smoked for a number of years and it very slowly develops,” Make said. “A lot of lung disease related to these inhalants are silent until they’re very far advanced.”
Galiatsatos recommends that people find alternative coping mechanisms to treat anxiety during the pandemic.
“I would plead with everyone to do what you can in a time like this,” he said. “I know I’m a lung doctor and this is coming off very biased, but this virus will destroy this organ if it finds any susceptibility, so please keep that in mind.”