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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Meet the mouthpiece: COVID concerns lead to more hygienic social smoking practices

By Tracy Damon EVERCANNABIS Correspondent

In the age of COVID, the time-honored tradition of sharing your stash – maybe in the form of a hit off a joint or bong – can now bring potential health risks.

No one wants to end up with a cold, the flu, or coronavirus as a result of being generous with their ganja. So what’s the best way to safely socialize when it comes to smoking? Some say the answer is a sanitary mouthpiece.

Mouthpieces are flexible silicone pieces that come in several shapes and sizes, depending on your tool of choice for smoking. Mouthpieces are slipped over the item before taking a hit, then removed before passing the pipe, bong, joint or vape pen to the next person.

The Spokane Regional Health District couldn’t comment directly on the effectiveness of mouthpieces, but Public Information Officer Kelli Hawkins acknowledges that anything you put your mouth on can transfer germs.

“Smoking cannabis or even tobacco involves a lot of sharing, and now is definitely not the best time to be passing around a joint or a cigarette or a vape pen,” she said. “COVID can spread even through that indirect contact. The same can go for a lighter or anything else you pass around.”

So it makes sense that mouthpieces could help reduce the spread of germs by creating a physical barrier between the mouth and the smoking device to prevent cross-contamination, and without harshing your buzz or ruining the long-held “puff puff pass” practice.

But even if you are using a removable mouthpiece, be aware that germs can spread in other ways when getting high.

“Smoking is a maskless activity so you’re literally blowing the virus (COVID-19) into a shared space,” said Hawkins.

When it comes to spreading germs through smoking tools, just how dirty are pipes, bongs, and vape pens? A 2019 study by Moose Labs shows that smoking tools carry a disturbing amount of bacteria. So much so that it was difficult to find a common everyday item to compare the amount of germs to.

(Disclaimer: Moose Labs produces mouthpieces for cannabis consumption tools.)

Its study claims that the average pipe has almost 1 1/2 times more bacteria than a public toilet seat. Water pipes and bongs can reportedly carry even more germs, as water left in them for long periods of time can foster the growth of bacteria and mold.

The study also looked at small-group smoking situations. In a 10-minute smoke session involving four people, a smoking piece carried 600 times the germs it had before the session. Some of the most common germs found on marijuana paraphernalia include those that cause colds, flu, COVID, strep throat, and e. Coli.

Hawkins says you can lessen your chances of picking up those germs through common-sense practices.

“Washing your hands, sanitizing, and really using your own tools is the best-case scenario, and not being in a close space,” she said. “Being outside is better and spreading out outside is even better.”

Other smoking best practices include carrying alcohol wipes to clean mouthpieces during shared smoke sessions, cleaning bongs with boiling water after each use, and cleaning smoking tools weekly with rubbing alcohol.

Hawkins also recommends attending to your overall well-being by eating well, staying hydrated, and exercising so that any harmful effects of smoking won’t have as big of an impact on your immune system.

Using a sanitary mouthpiece can’t hurt. They are available online through multiple vendors for around $10 for a two-pack.

Ultimately, Hawkins says, if smoking of any kind is impacting your health, it may be time to make a change.

“Now is a good time, when people are more physically distanced and support systems are more available with people working from home: it makes now a good time to quit.”

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