It’s been more than a year since many of us last shared a bowl, joint, or bong. But as San Francisco inches ever closer toward being the first major U.S. city to attain herd immunity — and with California’s outdoor mask mandate lifted — vaccinated cannabis enthusiasts are gathering together again and wondering: If everyone in the rotation has gotten their full course, is it cool to puff and pass again?
Rather than idly speculate while listening to Dark Side of the Moon, we asked several leading medical experts at UCSF whether fully vaccinated people can safely share cannabis with one another via their preferred method of toking.
“The ethos of cannabis culture is sharing,” says Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a UCSF professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist. “So of course this is an important question.”
Passing joints and sharing bowls does involve the transmission of saliva, and sitting in close quarters with another person for an extended period leads to the inevitable exchange of those invisible clouds of contagion that we’ve all come to know as “respiratory droplets.” But we swapped saliva, droplets — and the germs that they carry — for years before COVID-19 came along. As such, the doctors we spoke with said fully vaccinated cannabis smokers can indeed pass the Dutchie.
“There’s very little risk of sharing any of these bongs or devices,” Chin-Hong tells us. “If someone is vaccinated, and you’re sharing with another vaccinated person, vaccinated people sharing with each other are generally safe.”
It is important to remember, though, that level of safety only applies to individuals whom you are sure are indeed fully vaccinated.
“If people are fully vaccinated, and they’re really vaccinated, we’re not doing Boy Scouts honor, I don’t see there’s any much difference than kissing.” says Dr. George Rutherford, UCSF Professor of Epidemiology.
Be aware, though: There are vaccine skeptics in the cannabis community, as SF Weekly’s Veronica Irwin reported in her May 27 cover story. And while 80 percent of San Francisco residents are vaccinated, that means another 20 percent are not. If you’re holding the goods, you have every right to ask and confirm whether your fellow smokers are fully vaccinated.
After all, you don’t want to be a part of a super spreader session. “If the unvaccinated folks come from multiple different households, there’s a potential for two unvaccinated people to transmit COVID to each other,” Chin-Hong tells us. “The highest risk is obviously from unvaccinated people from multiple households sharing it amongst themselves.”
There are other risk factors to take into account. Namely, whether one of your fellow smokers has what doctors call “comorbidities,” or other diseases or conditions that could exacerbate a bout with the novel coronavirus. In a post-COVID world, it’s important that we be up front about our other medical conditions.
“The only vaccinated folks to think about would be those who have compromised immune systems,” Chin-Hong says. “There’s more risk with them than with the general population, because we’re not really sure how protected they are yet. It’s likely that they’re going to get some protection from the vaccine, but we’re not 100 percent sure.”
We should also note that this advice applies only to the Bay Area. If our region truly attains herd immunity, it’s unlikely that exposures will lead to large outbreaks of COVID-19 — at least not locally — as the virus won’t have a chance to spread the way it can in communities with low vaccination or immunity rates.
“If you’re in the Bay Area or San Francisco, chances are there’s so little COVID right now that the chance of a transmission occurring is generally lower than before,” according to Chin-Hong.
We have not mentioned vaping for a reason: It’s still a relatively new medium of cannabis delivery, and doctors are not yet confident how safe it is.
“Vaping in and of itself may be a risk factor for more severe disease,” Rutherford cautions. “We’ve never really established that.”
Finally, perhaps in an effort to appease the UCSF lawyers, Rutherford urges tokers to remember that COVID-19 isn’t the only pathogen to be concerned about when circling up around a blunt. “There’s a million other things that could be transferred by the respiratory route,” Rutherford says. “Everything from influenza to some of the summer viruses, like respiratory syncytial virus to tuberculosis, on and on and on. In the larger sense, it’s probably not a great idea to share respiratory secretions.”
Joe Kukura is a contributing writer at SF Weekly. firstname.lastname@example.org