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Medical marijuana vaping and COVID-19: Is it safe?

Can medicine created to help people actually be hurting them?

DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. — For weeks, health experts have warned that people who smoke or vape tobacco products could be more at risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19. What we haven't heard much about, is if vaping medical marijuana is included in that warning.   270,000

Last month, Janelle Keller of Dauphin County joined the list of some 270,000 Pennsylvanians who have their medical marijuana license.  She said the doctor she saw said very little to her about the possible dangers of vaping her medication, especially during a pandemic that can damage even the healthiest of lungs.

"I was surprised because I figured they would just give you a little more information, but no, they did not. They just basically did the 5 second thing where they say, you know the risks, you know what you can handle and that was that. They didn't really say much on the concerns of vaping with your lungs," Keller said. 

To get Keller answers, FOX43 contacted the Department of Health, asking if patients should be concerned. They sent us the following statement:

 "Medical marijuana patients who have questions about the administration of medical marijuana should contact their physician.  In addition, they may also consider talking with the medical professional at the dispensary for guidance concerning the appropriate use of devices utilized for vaporization."

So we talked to a physician.  Dr. Jennie-Corinne Baublitz-Brenenborg declined to go on camera, but offered this statement to us:  

 "There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that vaping can injure the lung. Given the insult to the lung resulting from novel coronavirus, any efforts for vaping cessation at this time would be advantageous as well as switching medical cannabis products to non-inhaled formulations. " 

Following the advice of the Department of Health, we also asked a dispensary pharmacist for their guidance.

"Obviously anything you inhale, there's a risk to that, I don't feel myself that there's any additional risk now then there was 6 months ago because those products are so pure," said Eric Hauser of Organic Remedies Dispensaries.

He told us the products they sell go through rigorous lab tests, 3 separate times. "The medical marijuana produced in Pennsylvania is really probably the highest quality available in the United States," Hauser said.

That fact is one of the reasons some patients, like 20-year-old Kelly Graffin of New Freedom say they are still vaping, even during the Pandemic.  "I still believe it's okay and they are safe because it is medical and it is put out by doctors who want patients to have medical relief," Graffin explained.

Graffin vapes her medication to relieve chronic pain from Robinow syndrome and says she'd rather risk side effects than to stop.  "I haven't changed the way I medicate because it's working and i feel like if i were to stop, my anxiety would get worse and my pain would get worse," she said.

Keller, on the other hand, said she is excited to explore other methods of use to take her medication.   "Vaping is still vaping," she exclaimed.  

The American Lung Association says inhaling anything into your body can harm your lungs.  They also admit there is little research on the health effects of vaping specifically for medical marijuana and encourages more studies to weigh the benefits, risk and safety of it when used for medical purposes. 

There have been a number of major changes made to the PA Medical Marijuana Program, to make it easier for people to get their medication during COVID-19. You can find our previous story about those changes here.