How to use cannabis safely during a pandemic

Cannabis delivery services such as Humble Root have experienced an increase in orders. (Photo by Ken Magri)

COVID-19 sounds like it should be a new cannabis strain. Unfortunately, it’s the official name of the virulent coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping the globe. As cases rise daily, people are increasingly anxious about observing best practices without going into a panic about community spread.

That goes for cannabis use as well.

Whatever the status of COVID-19 is at this moment, there are several proactive steps that cannabis users can take to keep themselves and others safe. Cleaning equipment, suppressing coughs and maintaining social distance are the most effective strategies. Here are some things to consider.

“I’m only coughing because I smoke weed.”
Because of the respiratory droplets that spread COVID-19, coughing makes everyone nervous these days. Some chronic smokers enjoy big cough-inducing hits because they come with a mighty head rush.

But coughing out big hits should concern the smoker, too. Among Chinese patients diagnosed with COVID-19, “the odds of disease progression were 14 times higher among people with a history of smoking,” according to UC San Francisco researcher Stanton A. Glantz.

Now might be a good opportunity to cut back or even quit smoking cannabis for a while. Otherwise, dial down on the size of those hits. Throat lozenges and sprays help with coughing fits. For a natural expectorant, try honey or buy a steam inhaler for home use.

Kief is a smooth way to smoke cannabis without coughing. Also known as “dry-sift,” kief is made when cannabinoids are separated out from the rest of the cannabis plant. What remains is less harsh, and kief is more potent than flower. If local dispensaries don’t offer kief, online videos demonstrate how to make it at home.

For smokeless cannabis try edibles, tinctures and THC capsules. But the cannabis high can be different and take longer to arrive, so be careful about dosage.

Parallel play
When friends are around, insist on using duplicate smoking devices, instead of sharing them. It is safer to roll two joints and let a guest smoke one while you enjoy the other. Different colored rolling papers can identify whose preroll was whose, when they’re both sitting in the ashtray.

“From a standpoint of personal practices, I’ll only be smoking solo,” said Forrest Heise, manager at Green Solutions dispensary. “All I know is I won’t be sharing any joints for a little while.”

Duplicate vape devices and pipes are also crucial. Wiping off the tip of a vape cartridge before sharing isn’t enough. Keep a second device on hand for others. A good quality vape battery or pocket pipe sells for about $15.
Individual silicone mouthpieces are inexpensive, and can be used for inhaling from shared bongs and dab rigs. These colorful devices, shaped like fluted spinning tops, were designed for germ-fearing smokers. Attached to a lanyard that hangs around the neck, the mouthpiece fits over a bong opening to ensure a safe hit.

When smoking with others, redirect those respiratory droplets on the exhale. Stoners who frequent hotels suggest exhaling the smoke into a steamy shower or through a wet, folded towel.

Spring cleaning
For those stuck at home with nothing to do, make a project out of disinfecting canna-equipment in one big session. There is no better time to completely clean pipes, bongs, grinders, dab rigs, ashtrays, vape cartridges and stash boxes.

Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) can be purchased by the gallon, and is an effective anti-bacterial cleaner. Remember to use the 70% solution. Its 30% water content helps the remaining alcohol penetrate cell walls to kill microorganisms. The 90% solutions, without that extra water, will actually create a protective barrier around the cell walls.

Paper towels and fortified pipe cleaners work best on bongs and pipes. A new toothbrush is best for grinders. Scrubbing works better than soaking. Afterward, rinse everything thoroughly with hot water.

Shopping for cannabis
Local dispensaries are also keeping it safe with deep-cleanings and hand-held UV lights that can quickly sanitize surfaces.

“We use this light everyday alongside UV/ Hepa air purifiers,” said Danny Kress, manager at A Therapeutic Alternative dispensary. “We find this combination to be aggressive without impacting member experience.”

While customers can visit dispensaries to pick up orders as they are considered an essential business under stay at home orders, many are opting for delivery services instead. This is the best choice for those affected by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s directive that Californians 65 years or older stay home.

Because this writer also fits that category, I went to my computer and made an order of concentrates through Humble Root delivery service. The dispatcher said with the gloomy weather and news developments, it’s received an increase in orders.

“Yeah, it’s been really busy,” said Chris, who delivered my products on time, in a stylish sealed box. He said that orders started flooding in after the national emergency was declared on March 14. They even threw in an enamel pin and lanyard for free. I thanked him as we elbow-bumped and bid each other a good night.

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