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Yes, You Can Be Allergic to Pot

Photo by Jackson Fager

More people are getting stoned without fear of consequence now in the United States than ever before. Prohibition is being rolled back, and people are celebrating by getting high as hell. Some, however, are noticing side effects that aren’t generally associated with pot, like runny noses and itchy eyes. According to allergists, these people are discovering that they have an allergy to marijuana.

Pot allergies are likely not uncommon, though the research is too preliminary to know exactly what the numbers are. Up to 20 percent of people have seasonal allergies—meaning they’re allergic to plants or pollens. And since marijuana is indeed a weed, complete with pollen, those with seasonal allergies are more likely to be allergic to pot.

“With [marijuana’s] increasing legality and less reluctance to talk with medical professionals, I think we’ll see more people reporting it,” William Silvers, a Denver-based allergist and clinical professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, told VICE. Silvers published an editorial in February pointing to a rise of these cases in his practice and calling for allergists to ask their patients about marijuana use in a “nonjudgmental manner.” A 2015 review of the research published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology noted an increase in reports of marijuana allergy as well.

Silvers said most of the patients he’s treated for pot allergies are either heavy smokers or people who work in the nascent industry, and so they handle weed on a regular basis. One 28-year-old patient, for instance, developed extreme nasal congestion shortly after becoming a trimmer at a marijuana facility; eventually, he developed a chronic cough and a wheeze, too. Another patient who worked in a growing facility developed a persistent runny nose, itchy eyes, dry cough, and itchy hands with an eczema-like rash, which was worse when he was at work.

While less common, other people show signs of allergies just from regular pot use. When Denver resident Sergei smoked up, his nose would run and his eyes would itch. Assuming those were things everyone experienced when they got high, he put up with it, until an offhand comment to an allergist led to the realization that he was allergic. “I’d never heard of being allergic to pot, so it hadn’t even occurred to me,” he told VICE. “I just assumed what I was experiencing was normal.”

While a snotty nose, itchy or red eyes, and the potential for asthma or breathing issues are often mild at first, they can heighten as the immune system becomes sensitized to the allergen via exposure. “You may be exposed five or ten times before you have any reaction,” Silvers said.

Pot legalization has led to the increased use of more potent weed, which could also result in a stronger reaction. So far, Silvers has seen one case of anaphylaxis, a more serious kind of allergic response that can include vomiting, a skin rash, and major breathing problems. There are other documented cases of anaphylaxis, including one involving a police detective handling pot as part of an investigation, and, terrifyingly, one resulting from the intravenous use of marijuana.

Weed allergies can be triggered in many different ways. Some people might only get a reaction from inhaling smoke, while others will have issues from swallowing edibles or handling buds or leaves. In all cases, the remedy is tragically the same: Stay away from it.

A caveat from Silvers: If the reaction, like Sergei’s, is mild, doesn’t seem to be getting worse, and is mainly just a runny nose or itchy eyes, taking an antihistamine before smoking may help. Trying edibles or a vaporizer instead of smoking could be worth a shot too, he said.

“But if you start to develop asthma, you need to take a hard look at what you’re doing,” he added. “You at least need to be open about talking with your doctor, and you need to realize you may have to change your behaviors.”

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Springtime isn't the only thing turning people into itchy, watery, red-eyed monsters.

How does smoking weed affect a cold?

Cannabis, or weed, is a psychoactive drug that some people use for medical or recreational purposes. Although its use is highly controversial, this is changing as more states and other countries move to legalize and regulate the drug.

Some people believe that smoking weed can help alleviate the symptoms of the common cold. If true, this could be due to the anti-inflammatory compounds present in cannabis.

Other people believe either that smoking cannabis has no effect on a cold or that it could make symptoms worse. Indeed, burning cannabis produces heat and smoke, both of which are likely to irritate the sinuses, potentially exacerbating respiratory symptoms.

Currently, there is no direct research on the effects that smoking weed has on a cold. However, research into the general health effects of cannabis use can help shed light on this area.

In this article, we outline the existing research relating to smoking weed with a cold and discuss the potential side effects.

Share on Pinterest Determining the effects of smoking weed during a cold will require more research.

To date, there has been a lack of scientific research focusing specifically on the effects of smoking weed with a cold.

As the authors of a 2016 review note, the general health effects of cannabis smoking can be difficult to gauge. One reason for this is that different strains of cannabis contain varying concentrations of the active compounds delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

THC is the psychoactive compound that alters a person’s mood, while CBD is the compound that provides the purported health benefits of the drug.

Despite the lack of direct research into smoking weed with a cold, there are several related questions that research may help answer. We consider some of these below.

Proponents of cannabis often promote weed smoking as a cure-all for minor health issues, such as the common cold.

However, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that smoking weed will cure a cold.

Cannabis contains compounds called cannabinoids and terpenoids. According to a 2018 article in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, these compounds may have anti-inflammatory effects on the body. These effects may help alleviate some of the inflammatory symptoms of a cold, including:

  • inflamed sinuses
  • pressure headaches
  • puffy eyes

Smoking weed may also help lessen general aches and pains, which are common symptoms of a cold. As a 2019 review states, cannabinoids reduce feelings of pain in many people, even those who experience chronic pain.

Again, there is no evidence relating specifically to cold symptoms. Anyone considering using weed to help with these symptoms may wish to consider scientifically proven options first.

Opponents of cannabis use may be more likely to claim that smoking weed can worsen a cold.

There is no evidence to suggest that smoking weed makes a cold last longer or that it suppresses the body’s ability to fight a cold. However, some research suggests that smoking weed may aggravate certain cold symptoms.

A 2018 review found low strength evidence linking weed smoking to respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, and mucus production. A person who already has these symptoms due to a cold may find that they become worse after smoking weed.

While some people say that smoking helps with inflammatory symptoms, others argue that the heat and smoke can make these symptoms worse.

People who want to smoke weed to alleviate a cold should, therefore, consider other methods of cannabis ingestion. For instance, they could try consuming either cannabis infused edibles or the extracted anti-inflammatory compounds, such as CBD oil.

Some people claim that weed interacts with cold medications, and this is true for certain types.

For instance, some over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications may cause side effects similar to those of weed. Taking both drugs together can exacerbate these side effects.

Some common side effects of weed and OTC cold medications include:

  • dry mouth
  • drowsiness
  • impaired cognitive function
  • dizziness
  • feeling cold

As smoking weed or taking OTC cold medications can cause drowsiness, people who use either should avoid driving, operating heavy machinery, and doing any other activities that require focus.

A cold can cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms, including:

  • headaches
  • sinus pressure
  • a runny or stuffy nose
  • sneezing
  • a cough
  • a sore, scratchy throat

Some people may find that smoking weed helps alleviate these symptoms, while others may find that it makes the symptoms worse.

One thing that a person should consider when smoking weed is that they are inhaling hot smoke into their lungs. Both heat and smoke are potential irritants. Ingesting irritants in this way may cancel out any anti-inflammatory benefits that the cannabinoids and terpenoids provide.

Smoke may be particularly irritating for people with nasal symptoms, such as sneezing and congestion. Smoke can also irritate the throat and lungs, resulting in increased phlegm production. Excess phlegm can worsen a cough and aggravate an itchy throat.

Heat can also aggravate throat symptoms. The smoke from a joint or handheld vaporizer can be hot, as it does not have much time to cool before entering the throat. This heat can further irritate the throat, making it dry and sore.

Other methods of cannabis smoking may help cool the smoke slightly. One option is to use a water pipe that contains ice. However, the smoke itself may still be irritating.

There is currently no direct scientific research on the effects of smoking weed with a cold. As such, there is insufficient evidence to say whether taking this action has beneficial or detrimental effects.

Some people who smoke weed with a cold may find that it alleviates their symptoms. However, others may find that it irritates their nose, lungs, and throat and makes sinus and respiratory symptoms last longer. These detrimental effects are likely to be due to the smoke and heat that burning cannabis produces.

Anyone thinking about smoking weed with a cold may want to consider other methods of cannabis ingestion. These include eating medicated edibles or consuming the extracted anti-inflammatory compounds. Even then, there is no guarantee that the compounds in cannabis will alleviate a cold.

Last medically reviewed on September 27, 2019

Some people claim that smoking cannabis can alleviate cold symptoms, while others say that it can make them worse. Learn about the potential benefits and disadvantages of smoking cannabis with a cold.