The novel coronavirus has taken the world by storm, impacting millions and stunning the medical community.
A push to find solutions to manage the disease has shed light on cannabis. More specifically, cannabidiol — the non-psychoactive cannabis compound known as CBD. CBD has taken priority over other substances found in cannabis in COVID-related research.
Interest from the medical community about the usefulness of CBD in battling the COVID-19 virus isn’t completely out of left field. CBD has shown promise as a therapy for other viruses such as HIV, for autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, and other diseases.(1, 2)
Based on these findings, several studies have emerged that are expected to progress our understanding of CBD’s therapeutic potential for COVID patients.
To best understand why researchers are focusing on CBD as a COVID therapy, it helps to know how the COVID-19 virus unfolds in the body.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is responsible for COVID-19 disease. Once an individual contracts the virus, the body goes about the same business it would to respond to any virus: It triggers an immune response.(3)
T cell involvement is a part of the adaptive immune response, which is diminished in those with compromised immune systems. These individuals are at a higher risk of developing life-threatening complications.
For those who don’t fight off the infection in this stage, they face severe symptoms in the next phase.
The same cytokines that help our immune system do its job can go into overdrive, causing the immune system to become hyperactive. This is known as a cytokine storm.
Working overtime, the immune system triggers extreme and erratic inflammation, putting the lungs, cardiovascular system, and kidneys at high risk of damage. Risk for stroke, blood clots, septic shock, and organ failure increase.
A cytokine storm is highly unpredictable, making it impossible to control. It can lead to long-term organ damage and severe health conditions which can result in death.
Scientists have organized studies that measure the efficacy of CBD for COVID-19 prevention, treatment, and recovery.
Since contracting COVID-19 puts some at a higher risk of death and long-term effects, one study is focusing on the use of CBD for infection prevention.(4)
Two startup companies theorize that the enzyme, which is a receptor for the SARS-CoV-2 virus (ACE2), may be affected by CBD. Specifically, they aim to determine whether it could decrease the presence of these receptors, decreasing the odds of the virus infecting the host.
They cultivated 800 new strains of Cannabis sativa L. Of these, 13 high-CBD strains were selected, which decreased the presence of ACE2 in 3D models of human respiratory and intestinal tissues.
A separate study found that, out of 82 patients with a medicinal CBD prescription, 12.2% who tested positive for COVID-19 had not been taking CBD. Only 1.2% of those who tested positive had been using CBD.(5)
These findings are a jumping off point for more research on CBD for COVID-19 prevention.
Can CBD help combat inflammation from a cytokine storm caused by COVID-19?
In the first study, the lung cultures were infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Researchers observed the effects of two types of CBD extract independently:
The high-CBD formula reduced inflammation considerably, whereas the high-THC formula had little anti-inflammatory effect. The high-CBD formula reduced the specific cytokines responsible for the COVID-19-induced cytokine storm.
Another observation was that the result was predictable based on the dose of CBD. This indicated that CBD dosages could be determined for specific medicinal purposes.
In the second study, CBD was found to halt viral replication. The researchers also concluded that CBD was more effective than THC. In fact, of the cannabinoids that were tested, CBD was found to be the only cannabinoid that produced this outcome. This study has not yet been peer reviewed, but is a promising line of investigation.
A double-blind study of 100 participants funded by the University of Sao Paulo began in July of 2020.(7) It may be the most comprehensive study on CBD and COVID-19 in motion to date.
Patients are given 300mg of CBD per day for two weeks or a placebo. The research team is measuring:
The results from this study aren’t in yet, but are sure to be a cornerstone of this early stage of CBD and COVID-19 research.
In another study performed on mice experiencing respiratory distress due to an artificially-induced cytokine storm, CBD reversed the negative effects and restored homeostasis.(8) This suggests that CBD may support recovery from the virus.
With the facts on the known relationship between CBD and COVID-19 laid out, it’s clear that further research and incoming results will reveal CBD’s role and effectiveness as a therapeutic tool. For now, the medical community and the world have earmarked these findings as a pivotal and encouraging chapter amidst the rollercoaster plot of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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