When smoking with others, germs are typically avoidable. Heck, when doing anything with others, germs are typically avoidable. However, pot has a particular gift for paving the way for bacteria and viruses to thrive; if anything else, people are less likely to care about illness when they’re getting high.

This doesn’t mean colds and flu are an inevitable side effect of Chemdawg and Grapefruit– there are things you can do to make sure your Mary Jane doesn’t come with a side of Typhoid Mary. And this starts with learning about germs.

What are germs?

Germs are everywhere – from the bottom of your shoe to inside your mouth – and they’re out to get you. They come in four major types:

Bacteria: Bacteria reproduces by feeding on their environments (including you!). They can reproduce either inside or outside of the body, leading the way for infections. Some of the more common infections caused by How to Avoid Germs When Smoking in a Groupbacteria include strep throat, ear infections, and some sinus infections. Yet, not all bacteria are bad – some are on our side and used to keep our system balanced.

Fungi: Fungi are not fun guys, despite what their name implies. They’re plant-like organisms that contain many cells. They often thrive in places that are wet, dank, and humid.

Most fungi aren’t serious as long as your healthy

Protozoa: These germs are one-cell organisms that spread diseases through water. They commonly cause intestinal issues in those they infect.

Viruses: Viruses are one of the most popular types of germ (popular as in they’re common, not well-liked).  Most viruses have short-life spans unless they’re inside a host: they can live on utensils and doorknobs but not for long periods. Once they enter your body, they spread and cause illness. Viruses cause chicken pox, measles, flu, and the common cold as well as other not-so-common maladies.

How Germs Spread

Some germs are well-versed travelers, able to spread from person to person quite easily. Others have more difficulty and require perfect conditions to switch hosts. Regardless, there are several ways germs get into the body.

Per the Minnesota Department of Health, some of the most common ways include:

Hands to the nose, mouth, or eyes: Hands, because we touch so many things throughout the day, are germ-fests. Touching our nose, mouth, or eyes out of habit can leave us habitually ill. That’s why hand-washing is so important.

Hands to food: Our parents weren’t just being annoying whenever they told us to wash our hands before eating – there was a reason for that. The germs on hands transfer to food and then get into the body, riding high on a side of fries or a slice of pizza. This goes both ways, though: food can transmit germs on its own if it’s uncooked, for instance.

Infected person to person: Germs are passed from people to people, by kissing and intimacy or living in close quarters. Even being around someone socially is enough to spur infection. This is why daycares and schools are essentially petri dishes – kids don’t practice the hygiene of adults. In other words, the sneeze doesn’t count unless it’s in someone’s face.

Infected animal to animal: Animals can pass germs too. They do this through biting, drooling, scratching, and just getting pet. Sharing an ice cream cone with your poodle (you know it’s happened) may also make you sick.

Germs and Cannabis

Not all the above is relevant to cannabis – you’re not going to pass a joint around with your child or your golden retriever. But germs and ganja are an occasional duo.

Sharing a joint or a pipe is essentially the same thing as sharing a fork or a spoon

Thus, people who smoke together also get sick together. So, what can you do to protect yourself?

The best thing is to not share, like ever, but since you learned in How to Avoid Germs When Smoking in a Groupkindergarten that that’s not very nice, the other ways to protect yourself include:

Use a lighter on the mouthpiece: Per Herb Magazine, lighters (especially if they’re torch lighters), may help kill off existing germs when the flame is applied for five seconds. But don’t forget to give it time to cool off – not doing so won’t give you strep throat, but it will give you burned lips.

Clean your stuff: If you share your pieces with others, then it’s important to clean your stuff even if it’s been a while since you last used it: time may heal all wounds, but it doesn’t kill all bacteria. Still, it’s not only the germs of other people you need to worry about: it’s your own as well. If you smoke a pipe when you’re sick, those germs can linger and re-infect you the next time you imbibe.

Clean regularly – not only with water but alcohol to sanitize

Just say no: Saying no to pot isn’t always easy, but if the person offering you a hit from their pipe is coughing up a lung or has a nose that’s running so fast it’s training for a marathon, feel free to pass. Then bum some weed from someone else.

Avoid paranoia: Sure, there are lots of things you can catch when taking a toke from the joint of another. But most of these things are minor, stuff like the common cold. More serious things happen, but they’re rare. In short, it’s important to be vigilant, but don’t allow paranoia to dominate. Can you get the flu from sharing a blunt? Yep. Are you going to catch Small Pox? Probably not.

Smoke with people you know: Another way to protect yourself is to limit the people you smoke with. You don’t need to screen them – asking that everyone passes a physical before they touch your bong – but, by limiting, you’re not opening yourself up to more germs. Besides, you share other things with people you know. Yep, you’ve most likely already been exposed to whatever they’re carrying.

Jenn Keeler

About the author: Jenn Keeler is a freelance writer and illustrator specializing in humorous lifestyle articles. She is one of the few people on earth actually using an English degree. Her heart belongs to the Denver Broncos and her husband. In that order.