At some point between their pass and your puff, puff, you may have stopped to wonder, Is that dude’s gross spit going to get me sick? It’s not exactly a common public health concern. But maybe cannabis smokers should be a tad bit more concerned about swapping germs.
A 2014 study on kissing-related spit swapping indicates that the oral cavity harbors approximately a total of 700 different, mostly anaerobic species (we’re talking bacteria, fungi, protists, and viruses). Although there are antibodies in saliva that help kill off the pathogens that make us sick, Philip Tierno, clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at the NYU School of Medicine, explains that 80 percent of all infectious disease is transmitted by direct and indirect contact—think: touching a doorknob, then your eyes. (The other 20 percent are from contaminated food or water, insects/mosquitos, or are airborne.) Sharing marijuana falls under direct contact.
Research shows that the human mouth is home to about 700 different species of bacteria, fungi, protists, and viruses. Now, our saliva is designed to contain healthy antibodies to protect us from any biological threats that could make us sick. However, those antibodies can fail.
By making direct mouth-to-mouth contact with the people you’re smoking with, you potentially put yourself at risk of catching a whole variety of diseases, including:
- Oral herpes
When you share marijuana cigarettes—spliffs, joints, blunts, and whatnot—you’re theoretically tongue kissing the person who rolled it up, in addition to everyone else in the cypher. It might as well be a game of spin the bottle. So, essentially, the things you can catch from kissing, you can catch from smoking. Tierno says sharing a blunt exposes you to potentially contracting the flu, Herpes Simplex Virus 1, strep throat, Staphylococcus infections, mononucleosis, meningitis, and the gastrointestinal assassin itself: norovirus, aka the stomach flu.
It all comes down to the saliva, which is an excellent substance for transferring certain germs. “You’re sharing saliva with someone you don’t know very well,” Dr. Tishler explains. “So you’re at risk for getting colds, herpes, and all those sorts of things.” That also includes mono (the “kissing disease”) and the flu.
What else can you do for a more hygienic smoking session?
So what can you do about it? Probably the easiest (and most obvious) answer is to simply wipe off the mouthpiece with your shirt before taking your hit. It won’t eliminate the bacteria completely, but it’ll significantly reduce the amount that you’re encountering.
However, there’s not too much you can do if you’re working with a joint. It might be hard to smoosh saliva off and a wipe won’t do much on a paper surface. If you’re down to the roach, for instance, “you might ignite it,” Dr. Tishler says. “You can see a Cheech and Chong moment evolving.” So, if you’re mostly consuming joints, you might want to invest in an easy-to-clean joint tip.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do to minimize the potential of catching or spreading diseases with others, except not share your joints, blunts, or other smoking materials (like bongs or pipes).
The only advice we can give you is this: choose wisely when and with whom you share your smoke. If you notice that one of your friends is a bit sniffly or has a cold sore, remember that those bacteria are inevitably going to make it onto the joint.
The same goes for you. If you notice you’re coming down with something, make sure to let your friends know and sit out on the next session. Instead, roll yourself a joint or smoke from a bong or pipe. Just make sure to wipe it down with an antibacterial wipe afterward.
Of course, at this point, there’s also the question of etiquette. How is your friend or fellow concertgoer going to react to you using your sleeve to wipe off their pipe or bong? Or do you really want to be the nerd who brought alcohol wipes to the circle? No judgement from us. But, ultimately, it’s up to you. And if your smoking partner isn’t feeling well, it may simply be best to skip out tonight.
We often underestimate just how tough germs and bacteria can be. While our bodies are meant to naturally fight off pathogens that pose a threat, even the toughest of immune systems can be beaten after sharing a joint with more than 1 or 2 people.
Remember, this doesn’t mean you need to be paranoid. Unless the people you’re smoking with are actually sick with a virus or bug, chances are, they won’t get you sick. Just keep in mind that the larger the session, the greater the chances you might be smoking with someone who is sick.