July 06, 2021

Reviewing Research On CBD For COVID-19 Therapy

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.

How COVID-19 Works

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.

Phase 1: Infection & Immune Response

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)

  • A healthy immune response looks like white blood cells — called B cells — developing antibodies, which latch onto the virus.
  • Throughout this process, another type of white blood cell — called T cells — communicate with B cells so they know how to respond. Cytokines, a protein that helps cells communicate, teams up with T cells to get the word out to the immune system.

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.

Phase 2: Cytokine Storm

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.

Hypotheses About CBD As COVID-19 Therapy

Scientists have organized studies that measure the efficacy of CBD for COVID-19 prevention, treatment, and recovery.

Hypothesis #1: CBD May Be An Option For COVID-19 Prevention

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.

Hypothesis #2: CBD May Reduce Inflammation Related To COVID-19

Can CBD help combat inflammation from a cytokine storm caused by COVID-19?

Two studies using in vitro lung cell cultures have completed early stages of answering this question.(5, 6)

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:

  • A high-CBD, low-THC formula
  • A high-THC, low-CBD formula

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.

Hypothesis #3: CBD May Be Helpful In The Treatment Of COVID-19

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:

  • Viral load
  • Inflammation and cytokines
  • Emotional symptoms
  • Sleep quality
  • Symptom severity and occurrences of hospitalization
  • Possible adverse effects of CBD

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.

Current Findings Spark More Questions

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.

 

References

  1. Levy, Y., et al.  (2009). Enhanced T cell recovery in HIV-1-infected adults through IL-7 treatment. The Journal of clinical investigation, 119(4), 997–1007. https://doi.org/10.1172/JCI38052
  2. Gonçalves, E. D., & Dutra, R. C. (2019). Cannabinoid receptors as therapeutic targets for autoimmune diseases: where do we stand?. Drug discovery today, 24(9), 1845–1853. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drudis.2019.05.023
  3. (2020). How Does the Immune System Fight COVID-19? GoodRx. https://www.goodrx.com/blog/how-the-immune-system-fights-covid-19/
  4. Wang, B., et al. (2020). In search of preventive strategies: novel high-CBD Cannabis sativa extracts modulate ACE2 expression in COVID-19 gateway tissues. Aging, 12(22), 22425–22444. https://doi.org/10.18632/aging.202225
  5. (2021). Cannabis compound inhibits SARS-CoV-2 replication in human lung cells. News Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20210314/Cannabis-compound-inhibits-SARS-CoV-2-replication-in-human-lung-cells.aspx
  6. Anil, S.M., et al. (2021). Cannabis compounds exhibit anti-inflammatory activity in vitro in COVID-19-related inflammation in lung epithelial cells and pro-inflammatory activity in macrophages. Sci Rep 11, 1462. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-81049-2
  7. Souza Crippa, J., et al. (2020). Cannabidiol for COVID-19 Patients With Mild to Moderate Symptoms. ClinicalTrials.gov. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/study/NCT04467918
  8. (2020). CBD For Coronavirus? New Study Adds Evidence For Cannabis As COVID-19 Treatment. https://www.forbes.com/sites/emilyearlenbaugh/2020/07/15/cbd-for-coronavirus-new-study-adds-evidence-for-cannabis-as-covid-19-treatment/?sh=1ccd208e382d


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