Although COVID-19 case numbers have dropped dramatically since vaccines showed up, health officials say we’re still nowhere near herd immunity, which the federal government defines as 70% of the population being inoculated.
But some people, including long-term cannabis users, may be reluctant to get their dose(s) because they’re not sure how their bodies will react.
Leafly Senior Editor David Downs joins KCRW to clear up some information on vaccines and marijuana use.
KCRW: Has there been any correlation between people getting vaccines and how much cannabis they use?
David Downs: “There’s this gnarly Venn diagram of cannabis users and people who are young and people who are vaccine-hesitant. And right in the middle is this group that overlaps, that are young cannabis users who are vaccine-hesitant, as well as heavy lifetime cannabis users.
We're seeing studies … in the national level that are showing that heavy lifetime cannabis users are less likely overall to get vaccinated or report wanting to get vaccinated. And the issue is teasing apart that decision from other sort of poor health decisions that that group is making overall.”
Does cannabis use potentially weaken the efficacy of vaccines? What do we know?
“We know that cannabis and cannabinoids, specifically THC and CBD, are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. And we've known that the CDC has been warning people away from taking Advil, or acetaminophen, to blunt the impacts of side effects or soreness or tiredness from a COVID shot. So there's been some concern that cannabis' ability to modulate the immune system and dampen the immune system might reduce its efficacy with regard to generating antibodies to the coronavirus. But so far, experts are saying that fear has not borne out.
For one thing, cannabinoids act differently on the body than those other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. And so generally … in terms of physicians that are advising people that are using cannabis, they're just more worried about really, really high-end levels of use. So if you're on 100 milligrams a day or more of CBD, that's cannabidiol, that's where they would be more concerned with some type of interaction and a reduction of antibody production.
But just in general, cannabinoids are not viewed as a threat to the efficacy of your vaccine shot.”
Is it safe to smoke some flowers or consume an edible after getting the shot(s)?
“It seems so. The U.S. vaccine trials did not exclude or track cannabinoid use per se. They wanted to get the shot on people's arms and let them out into the wild and see if they got COVID. And these vaccines are enormously effective at that.
Multiple experts say there's no evidence that the vaccine is interacting with marijuana or alcohol. And that's really salient because a lot of people do consume alcohol or cannabis every day, and they are worried about that interaction. We know that 370 million doses of vaccine have been given out to Americans from December through June. So that includes millions of cannabis consumers that are now immune to this deadly pathogen.
And we also know that the vaccine side effects are really rare, whether it's an allergic reaction, or these even more rare blood clots, and that stands in contrast to the known effects of coronavirus on your body, not including just those deaths but all the disabilities and the sickness and the ability for you to spread it.”
Businesses nationwide have been offering incentives, such as free food, to get people vaccinated. Has the cannabis community responded to this kind of strategy?
“Yes, it has across the country. And when it first started in January in Washington, DC, I kind of rolled my eyes like, ‘Really joints for jabs?’ But over time, I've come to see that this really is the perfect role for the cannabis outlet to play.
These are licensed, regulated businesses that were health centers before legalization, and afterwards, they really run in alignment with government programs.
So in Washington, the Liquor and Cannabis Board through July 12 is hosting vaccinations at cannabis stores. … And then we're seeing California stores like 7 Stars in Richmond, as well as the preroll brand Lowell Farms, do [sell] weed for a penny if you show your proof of vaccination.”