Is It Bad to Smoke Weed When You’re Sick (Cold or Flu)?

Sophia Delphi August 16, 2022 - 7 min read
Fact Checked
Illustration for Can You Smoke Weed When Sick

When you were a kid, getting sick was something you looked forward to. You didn’t have to go to school; instead, you could stay home all day, eat ice cream, and play video games or watch TV.

When you’re a grown-up, things aren’t so clear-cut. You may welcome a day off from work – but if you don’t get paid for sick days, or you’re behind on a crucial project, having to stay home can be annoying.

It can also be boring. What do you do when you’re stuck at home? (A question that was all too familiar during Covid.)

Your first reaction might be to settle in for the duration, with your laptop and your favorite smokeable. That poses a second question, though: is it bad to smoke weed when you’re sick?

There’s good news. In most cases, there’s no evidence that indulging will make you any sicker. In fact, it might help somewhat.

You knew that answer was too easy, though. Here’s the qualifier: it really depends on what type of illness is forcing you to stay home. There are times that smoking could make you feel worse.

Let’s unpack that.

What’s Making You Sick?

There are two important questions we have to ask before reaching a definitive verdict on smoking weed when you’re sick.

The first question: what’s wrong with you?

Most people have to stay home from work or school because they have a cold or the flu, both of which are usually caused by viruses. The symptoms, as you certainly know from experience, can include a runny nose, coughing, muscle aches, fever, and fatigue – most of which are triggered by inflammation in the body.

Others though are stuck at home with different types of illnesses. The most common are stomach flu, conjunctivitis, headaches or migraine, or injuries suffered in accidents. Longer-term issues like back pain or depression might also be to blame.

(We’re leaving Covid out of this part of the discussion. If you think you might have it, don’t waste time smoking up – get tested or talk to a doctor right away.)

For colds, the flu, or other respiratory issues caused by viruses, evidence on the potential benefits of weed use is inconclusive. Research into the use of cannabis to treat these medical issues implies that CBD could have more powerful antiviral properties than THC. However, there are limited indications that THC might also be effective against some types of viruses, and its anti-inflammatory properties could certainly be beneficial for the sore joints that often accompany colds or the flu.

When it comes to the second group of illnesses, there’s research showing that cannabis can actually help treat many of them.

Weed can ease nausea and vomiting often associated with stomach distress, it can help calm the pain of migraines and headaches, and its anti-inflammatory properties help reduce the eye swelling that’s the telltale sign of conjunctivitis. In fact, it can help with any inflammatory illness or disease.

Marijuana’s pain-relieving properties are commonly beneficial to those suffering from serious or chronic problems like back pain, and it has also been shown to ease both depression and anxiety.

Here’s the bottom line.

Nothing indicates that weed will make illnesses worse, except perhaps for a small subset of those suffering from migraines or anxiety. And it has been shown to help with many of the illnesses that might keep you out of work.

So from that standpoint, it’s not bad to smoke weed when you’re sick. There’s another way to look at the issue, though.

What Are Your Symptoms?

Image of a Person Holding a Hemp Joint

We mentioned earlier that there are two important questions to consider, and here’s the second: what symptoms are you experiencing from your illness?

The most problematic issues for weed smokers can be coughing, respiratory congestion, a sore throat, and/or the production of phlegm, all of which are common during severe colds or bouts of the flu. Here’s why.

Inhaling any type of smoke, even cannabis smoke that may provide other medicinal benefits irritates the respiratory tract. That’s the reason why – even if you’re not sick – you may cough or experience a sore throat after a smoke sesh. The toxins in smoke irritate the tender tissues in the mouth, throat, and respiratory system, and they damage the cilia (small hairs) that line the airway and are normally responsible for removing “debris” like phlegm.

If you’re already coughing or experiencing respiratory issues, smoking weed (or anything else) will often make them worse; much worse, if you’re dealing with bronchitis. And the increased irritation of the respiratory tract can increase the amount of phlegm it produces, causing even more problems for those experiencing stuffy noses and sore throats.

Getting the picture? Smoking weed with a cold, the flu or similar illnesses won’t make those illnesses worse, and may even help with problems like sore muscles. But the smoke can definitely make your symptoms worse until you recover.

There’s one other potential problem to discuss. Over-the-counter cold or flu medications often cause drowsiness. That’s one of their benefits when you feel like crap; they let you sleep for much of the time that you’re suffering.

However, if you’re smoking a strain that also causes drowsiness, that could be “too much of a good thing.” Even worse, some OTC meds interact with cannabis and intensify their psychoactive effects, making the high much higher than you expected.

We now have the full picture.

Smoking weed when you’re sick isn’t going to make you sicker, and it may even help. But if you’re dealing with a cold, the flu, bronchitis, or some other respiratory illness, it may make you feel worse, by increasing the likelihood or severity of congestion, coughs, a sore throat, or breathing difficulty.

You might want to lay off the smoke in that case.

But I Want To Chill Out!

That’s understandable; you’re sitting at home with nothing to do. Thankfully, there are several alternatives other than laying off the weed until you feel better.

Switching from smoking to vaping may help. The vapor from weed might still irritate your throat or respiratory tract, but it’s not as hot as smoke and it contains fewer irritants. That means the vapor won’t be as harsh and could be easier to handle when you’re under the weather.

The better choice is to consume your weed in the form of edibles. You’ll receive all the medicinal benefits of THC and other cannabinoids (CBD can also help treat many illnesses), but there’s no danger of making your respiratory symptoms worse.

Edibles usually taste better, too.

Is It Bad To Smoke Weed When You’re Sick? FAQ

Q: Is taking CBD a better idea?
A: It could be if you’re suffering from the cold or flu symptoms we’ve discussed. However, CBD won’t provide all of the benefits that weed’s THC may provide, like the relief of headaches or sore muscles. And, needless to say, if you want to smoke weed in order to get high, CBD won’t get you there.

Q: If cannabis is an anti-inflammatory, wouldn’t it make sense to use it to reduce the congestion that’s caused by swelling in the respiratory tract?
A: Of course – but only if, as the old saying goes, the treatment isn’t worse than the disease. If smoking weed is making you more congested and making you feel worse, the theoretical benefits aren’t all that important.

Q: What if I have a bacterial infection instead of a viral one? Will weed cause a problem if I’m on antibiotics?
A: There haven’t been any detailed studies, but anecdotal reports indicate that there are no significant interactions between cannabis and antibiotics. Feel free to smoke up.