Are pre-rolls and other prepared cannabis goods risky in a pandemic?

Published Aug 25, 2020 11:00 a.m. ET
iStock / Anton Shelepov

COVID-19 has changed the way that we do everything these days, from our typical trip to the grocery store to our required uniforms for work. It’s been a shock to the system, and everyone is dealing with it in their own way. Some are opting for online orders instead of visiting stores in person, and others are braving the storm and spending their days buying groceries for those who can’t bear to leave home. We all have questions, and still so few answers, but one that is plaguing the cannabis community the most is, is it safe to buy and consume cannabis pre-rolls?

The concern with pre-rolls and other prepared cannabis products

Some consumers have shut themselves off as much as possible from the rest of the world in hopes of avoiding COVID-19, which could mean cutting take out and coffee runs and reducing the frequency of trips to the grocery store, but many question the true risk of consuming these types of products, especially when it will be smoked under high temps which should surely kill off a virus. The trouble is that smoking contaminated products isn’t what will make you sick.

How is coronavirus transmitted?

Now, this is the important thing to pay attention to if you’re really concerned about the risk of COVID-19 because, like any other virus, it behaves in the same way under specific conditions every single time. Scientists have studied this contagious disease to figure out how it works to infect so many people so quickly, and what they’ve found is that it spread mainly through liquid droplets that are ejected from an infected individual when they speak or cough.

Those droplets must make it from the infected person into a healthy one through the eyes, nose or mouth, and the more you’re exposed to it, the more likely you’ll be to experience more severe side effects with the illness because the severity seems to be connected to the amount of the virus that makes it inside of the body. The latest study published in the New England Journal of Medicine says that COVID-19 can last up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 72 hours on other types of surfaces.

Are pre-rolls more likely to be contaminated than traditional cannabis flower?

At this point, it is essential to realize that COVID-19 can absolutely spread from an infected surface of a pre-roll to a person if they touch it and then put their hands in their eyes or mouth, and normally this is something that is avoidable with cannabis products. You can wipe down bags or jars and leave them to decontaminate for a few days to reduce the risk, but that isn’t always possible with pre-rolls that don’t come in a sealed container.

We’re also going to say that it’s safe to assume that your dealer isn’t very likely to lick your buds or concentrates before bagging them up for sale, but with pre-rolls, that isn’t always the case. In fact, nearly all black-market dispensaries and some legally licensed establishments carry pre-rolls that are rolled in house. In some cases, that could mean that the pre-rolls have a potential for being contaminated by the saliva of the individual who spins them, and this tends to happen when licking the paper is necessary.


What about the recalls for contaminated batches of pre-rolls?

If you’ve been watching the news, then you might have heard about the Michigan cannabis company that is recalling hundreds of pre-rolls that were made in a factory that has since lost its license to produce cannabis products. As it turns out, a whole bunch of these contaminated joints were shipped out to unsuspecting customers, and most would automatically assume that it’s because an infected person was responsible for rolling that day.

The truth is that we don’t make pre-rolls the old fashioned way in the legal world these days, and though many legitimate dispensaries will carry the occasional pre-roll that was created in house, for the most part, you’ll find mainly machine-rolled joints. That’s right! No one was licking these contaminated joints, and instead, an irresponsible worker was caught licking them while they were being processed through rolling machines.

Is it possible to sanitize pre-rolls?

Unfortunately, there is no real reliable way that we’re aware of for sanitizing pre-rolls that you believe may have come in direct contact with moisture droplets of another person, be it through licking or coughing, but what you can do is buy options that come vacuum sealed so that you can wipe down the surfaces of your purchase that may have been handled too much, and stick with mass-produced pre-rolls that you know no one hidden in the back is rolling by hand.


Pre-rolls that have been rolled by an unlicensed individual certainly pose a higher risk than those that are coming out of factories that are maintaining the highest level of standards without any saliva added to the mix. They can be slightly more expensive, but the extra cost is more than worth it if you truly value your health, as COVID-19 isn’t the only thing that you can catch from swapping spit with your local dispensary employees.

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