Cannabis users encouraged to take a break over lockdown period due to COVID-19 health risks

Sharing bongs could have serious health risks.
Sharing bongs could have serious health risks.

Stoners are being told to ease up on the weed over the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, with scientists saying the health risks are significant.

Dr Marta Rychert, a senior research officer at Massey University's SHORE and Whariki Research Centre says around five percent of New Zealand's population uses cannabis as medication.

"People who self-medicate with cannabis are the most vulnerable in the terms of COVID-19," she said in a statement on Tuesday.

"They are older than recreational users and often suffer from multiple health problems."

A recent survey by SHORE showed the most popular way to use marijuana was to smoke it.

"Smoking presents unique risks in the context of COVID-19 due to the impacts on lung function."

People who self medicate using oils or tinctures will not suffer the same ill effects. 

Dr Rychert says people who use cannabis for fun need to be careful too. The usual practices of recreational marijuana use present a serious risk during the pandemic.

"[They] need to pay attention to the hygienic practices they normally may not think about," she said.

"This is because sharing of cannabis joints, bongs or vapes, also creates risks for COVID-19 transmission."

Buying drugs also presents a significant health risk, says SHORE and Whariki associate professor Chris Wilkins.

" One drug dealer may have face-to-face contact with many buyers involving exchanges of cash and drugs that have the potential to transmit the disease," he said on Tuesday.

"We are in the harvest months for cannabis and growers may seek to travel to crops and also sell cannabis to many customers, with potential for transmission."

The NZ Drug Foundation has advised heavy drug users to use the lockdown period as a chance to take a break but has warned people to stay wary of the signs of withdrawal which can range from disorientation to trouble sleeping.