Does Cannabis Ease Cold and Flu Symptoms?

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Written by Alex Patsfield on 01/07/2024.
Data Last Updated: 07/22/2024.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Kimberly Langdon Author avatar Medically reviewed by Dr. Kimberly Langdon Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired, board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She graduated from The Ohio State University College of Medicine, earning Honors in many rotations. She then completed her OB/GYN residency program at The Ohio State University...

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What is a Cold?

When you have an unpleasant cold with symptoms like coughing, sore throat, congestion, and fever, finding some relief often sounds very appealing. With cannabis products becoming more widespread, the question arises – can weed help provide any relief from cold symptoms? Here’s what we know so far about using marijuana while sick.

What is a Cold?

A cold is a viral respiratory infection causing inflammation in the nose, throat, sinuses, and upper airways. It’s very common, usually harmless, but symptoms can leave you feeling miserable. The most frequent symptoms include:

  • Runny, stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches

Colds normally last about 1-2 weeks and tend to resolve without treatment as your immune system fights it off. 

Potential Benefits of Marijuana for Treating the Common Cold

Potential Benefits of Marijuana for Treating the Common Cold

There are a few key ways that cannabis could help provide relief:

  • When THC and CBD interact with endocannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, they initiate a therapeutic response. This interaction combats diseases by transmitting anti-inflammatory signals to the brain.
  • Marijuana is particularly effective in reducing headaches and migraines, frequent symptoms of the common cold.
  • Another significant advantage is the reduction of pain and inflammation. THC and CBD can alleviate body pain, headaches, sore throat, and cough through their pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Anti-Nausea: Nausea, a typical flu symptom, can be effectively reduced by THC, facilitating easier eating and drinking.
  • Improved Sleep: The flu often causes insomnia due to congestion, coughing, and aches. THC promotes relaxation and sleepiness, providing much-needed rest.
  • Increased Appetite: Loss of appetite is common during illness. THC stimulates appetite, ensuring adequate food intake.

Research on Marijuana’s Effects on Cold Symptoms

Research on Marijuana's Effects on Cold Symptoms

Most research so far has involved particular cannabis compounds rather than smoked marijuana. Here’s some of what’s been found:

  • A 2000 study (1)  showed that THC helps significantly reduce pain and regulate the immune system. Both could provide cold/flu relief.
  • A 2020 review (2) found CBD demonstrates anti-inflammatory abilities and pain relief potential useful for colds.
  • CBN was shown in this 2023 study (3) to improve sleep quality, helpful when colds disturb sleep.
  • Research (4) into cannabis effects on immunity and viral infections is still very limited though. More robust clinical trials are still needed.

Downsides to Consider

While cannabis may help ease difficult symptoms, there are some potential downsides to keep in mind:

  • Smoking could aggravate coughs and lung congestion associated with colds and flus. Vaping is gentler on the lungs but still poses risks if overdone when already sick.
  • Cannabis could potentially slow recovery time or worsen symptoms like foggy heads.
  • There may be risky drug interactions with cold medications.
  • It can be risky for those with certain health conditions like heart disease.
  • Dosing can be tricky when sick since needs may differ.

Safest Methods

Safest Methods

Smoking marijuana is unlikely to help lung-related cold and flu symptoms. Safer options include:

  • Edibles – Provide effects without lung irritation. Dosing can be tricky though.
  • Oils/Tinctures – Allow precise THC/CBD dosing without smoking. Easy to take as needed.
  • Teas – Non-psychoactive teas provide hydration without significant drug effects.
  • Creams/Balms – Applied to skin for localized pain/inflammation relief.

Method

Pros

Cons

Edibles

No lung irritation 

Long lasting effects

Slow onset 

Hard to dose

Oils/Tinctures

Measured dosing 

Easy administration

Contains THC (psychoactive)

Teas

Non-psychoactive 

Hydrating

Limited absorption 

Mild effects

Creams/Balms

Localized relief

Minimal systemic effects

Additional research is still needed, but when used cautiously cannabis may offer incremental relief from difficult cold symptoms.

The Bottom Line

Research indicates THC, CBD and other cannabis compounds may help relieve difficult cold and flu symptoms like pain, nausea and trouble sleeping. However, smoking can make coughs and congestion worse. Non-inhaled options like edibles, oils and topicals may provide relief without additional lung irritation.

More research is still needed, including interaction risks with common cold medications. As always, it’s best to discuss cannabis use with your doctor when sick to understand the unique risks and benefits for you. While not a cure, cannabis may provide incremental relief during seasonal illness recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does weed cure colds?

No, there are no cures for the common cold yet. Weed can only help manage bothersome symptoms.

Is smoking weed good for a cold?

No, smoking anything can further irritate lungs and airways which are already inflamed from infection.

Can weed help cold symptoms?

Compounds like CBD and THC may offer modest relief for symptoms like sore throats, headaches, nausea and trouble sleeping. Effects are small though and vary individually.

What’s better for a cold, indica or sativa strains?

Indica strains with more relaxing effects may help improve cold-disrupted sleep. Sativa’s energizing effects could help counter fatigue.

Sources:

  1. Mack A, Joy J. Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000. 4, MARIJUANA AND PAIN. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224384/
  2. Atalay, S., Jarocka-Karpowicz, I., & Skrzydlewska, E. (2019). Antioxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Cannabidiol. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 9(1), 21. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox9010021 
  3. Bonn-Miller, M. O., Feldner, M. T., Bynion, T. M., Eglit, G. M. L., Brunstetter, M., Kalaba, M., Zvorsky, I., Peters, E. N., & Hennesy, M. (2023). A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study of the safety and effects of CBN with and without CBD on sleep quality. Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology, 10.1037/pha0000682. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/pha0000682 
  4. Maggirwar, S. B., & Khalsa, J. H. (2021). The Link between Cannabis Use, Immune System, and Viral Infections. Viruses, 13(6), 1099. https://doi.org/10.3390/v13061099 

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