Marijuana and COVID-19


By Philip S. Chua, MD.

The target organs of the SARS-CoV2 virus (COVID-19), which eventually kills the patients, are the lungs. While this deadly viral infection also affects other organs in the body, like the heart, liver, and kidneys, the destructive effects it has on the pulmonary system transform the lungs from airy soft, spongy, alveolar tissues, that efficiently absorb life-sustaining oxygen and eliminate the waste product carbon dioxide, into hard solidified non-functional organs with disabled  air exchange capability. This deprives the COVID-19 patients vital oxygen and literally suffocates them to the end, when even a ventilator (which pushes oxygen into the lungs) is no longer of any help at that stage.

One of the recommendations to lessen the risk for COVID-19 is for those who smoke tobacco to quit because smoking burns and reduces the resistance of the lungs and weakens the entire body’s immune system.

Since the recreational use of marijuana has been legalized in many states, the question is, do smokers or users of any cannabis products, have higher risk to acquire COVID-19 infection?

It appears that Marijuana smokers and illicit drug users have increased risk for getting the COVID-19 infection and their use also negatively impacts the outcome of the infection, compared to non-users.

Is marijuana the same as cannabis?

Basically, they are the same. Cannabis is the plant and refers to cannabis products in general, while marijuana is cannabis products made from dried flowers, leaves, stems, seeds of cannabis plants.

What is the difference between THC and CBD?

THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) comes from cannabis sativa plant and CBD from hemp. While both substances interact with cannabinoid receptors in the human body and brain, their effects are very different. THC is the psycho-active component of cannabis, which provides the feeling of “high” with the use of recreational marijuana. CBB is non-psycho-active and does not produce “high” among users, hence it is more popular in dietary and natural supplements.

Is hemp the same as marijuana?

No, hemp is the sterilized roots, seeds, stems, stalks, marijuana refers to the viable leaves, flowers and seeds. Hemps comes from cannabis plant with less than 0.3 percent THC, while marijuana, also from cannabis plant, has more than 0.3 percent THC, the psycho-active substance. Hemp is native to Central Asia and dates back to 2800 BCE in Ancient China. Its fibers are used to produce burlap, canvas, artificial sponges, cable, rope, twine, paper, biofuel, etc., and its roots and seeds produce oil with medicinal use. It is the cannabidiol content of cannabis plant which provides its various medicinal properties.

What conditions has CBD been used for?

Cannabidiol, an anxiolytic (sedative) and cellular antioxidant, sometimes used in combination with THC, has been tried as an adjunctive therapy for seizures, including epilepsy, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and muscular (neurological) spasm or pain.

What are the side effects of marijuana?

Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is not harmless. The adverse effects of marijuana use include memory loss, paranoia, addiction, psychosis, lowers testosterone, panic, anxiety, mood disorders, heart, lungs, liver, kidney problems, decrease motor responses, hallucination, altered decision-making, cognitive impairment, chronic bronchitis, poor school performance and educational outcome, depression, altered judgement and decision making, and lung cancer. Cardiac complications with the use of Cannabis, especially among the young, has a death rate of 25.6 percent. Marijuana users are also more prone to use addictive illicit drugs. Like in second-hand cigarette smoking, the hazards of second-hand marijuana smoke to heart and lungs have been found to last even longer and equally deleterious, including cancer formation.

While medical marijuana has a legitimate place in society to help countless patients, it seems senseless legalizing recreational marijuana, in view of the world’s 140 years devastating and dreaded experience with killer tobacco, which does not even have as much multi-organ side effects and complications listed above, compared to marijuana. Regular use of marijuana, like smoking tobacco, could also lead to lung cancer. We have so many recreational avenues today that mankind does not need another that is potential destructive. The opium addiction in the whole of China in the 1700 has almost doomed the entire Qing Dynasty. There were two Opium Wars, the British against China (1839-1842) and British and French against China (1856-1860). Indeed, addicting substances can destroy a nation.

Can Marijuana or CBD prevent or cure COVID-19?

No, at this time, there is no known drug or substance that can cure or prevent COVID-19 infection. Various anti-viral drugs and potential vaccines are currently being tested. Remdesivir intravenous anti-viral treatment, 140,000 rounds might be available by the end of May 2020, and about one million rounds by the end of this year, could be a game changer in this pandemic. The popular heart-burn medication, famotidine (as in Pepcid), is being studied as a potential drug useful in the treatment of COVID-19. HydroxyChloroquine-Azithroymcin combo has not been proven to be fully effective against COVID-19 and found to have a potentially fatal cardiac rhythm side-effect, among others. For the entire duration of this pandemic and possible resurgence, the best prophylactic strategy to avoid getting infected is discipline and this C-O-V-I-D acronym: Cover face to scratch, sneeze or cough; Omit non-essential travels; Voluntary quarantine; Intensive handwashing; Distancing. Indeed, staying home, when possible, is the safest “bunker” in our war with this invisible enemy, where viral bullets outside are flying all around, looking for human host-targets in order to survive, and hit the maximum number possible. And those of us who are non-compliant with that basic C-O-V-I-D strategy, will be aiding the enemy (traitors in this war) and help spread COVID-19 further, and more massively, prolonging this pandemic. Let us all be responsible and do our part to help end this pandemic soon and save lives.

Could COVID-19 pandemic recur?

For patients who have recovered from COVID-19, reinfection among those who did not develop enough antibody is deemed possible. As for resurgence of the pandemic, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), analyzing the data from past influenza pandemics, predicted the future of the COVID-19 with these scenarios in the USA: the current wave is followed by a larger wave in the fall or winter of 2020, and one smaller wave in 2021. Also, “this current pandemic will likely last 18-24 months and 60-70 percent of the population may need to be immune for the pandemic to end.” This could also be true for the Philippines, which has more than 10,000 cases and greater than 700 deaths.  The figures in the USA (1,241,000, with about 73,000 deaths) could double by August, 2020. Worldwide, there are now about 3.8 million cases and more than 260,000 deaths in 212 countries, and counting.

In the meantime, CDC says the healthcare workers who tested positive could be higher than the reported 9,200 and that the infected medical front-liners account for 11 percent of the COVID-19 cases in the United States, with 27 deaths so far. In UK and Italy, more than 100 healthcare personnel died from COVID-19 in each country. Other nations share the same tragedy.

The entire world has lost countless healthcare workers, who heroically exposed themselves in harm’s way saving the lives of others, many losing their own. They are the unsung heroes of this pandemic who shall forever inspire us with their dedication, service, self-sacrifice, and grit and grace under fire.

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, a Health Advocate, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. Websites:  and   Email: