Article written by
Dipak HemrajHead of Research and Education
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Cannabidiol (CBD) may be helpful in the prevention and treatment of certain viruses, including COVID-19 and hepatitis C. However, some viruses, such as hepatitis B, have been unaffected by CBD treatment.
Although research has been in vitro studies (i.e., studies occurring in controlled environments such as Petri dishes), there is promising evidence to suggest that CBD shows antiviral activity against some, but not all, viruses.
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Does CBD Treat Viral Infections?
Studies show that some extracts from the cannabis plant, including cannabidiol (CBD), can enhance the body’s natural response to treat or prevent certain viral infections, including COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic spurred the funding of many studies regarding the efficacy of existing medications to help treat the virus. CBD quickly emerged as a potential candidate for treating COVID-19 symptoms due to its anti-inflammatory effects. Further research has shown that not only does CBD use help lessen the symptoms of COVID-19, but it also prevents viral replication within human lung cells.
Previous to the sudden surge into the effects of CBD on COVID-19 infection, research was already showing promising results on the potential antiviral effects of CBD. A study in 2017 determined that CBD shows antiviral effects against hepatitis C but not the related virus hepatitis B. Previously, researchers had demonstrated that CBD inhibited the reproduction of KSHV (Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus) within human cells and encouraged infected host cells to self-destruct in a process known as apoptosis.
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How Does CBD Treat Viral Infections?
Although the cannabis plant has been used for centuries as a medicine, only recently has science been able to test these claims within the United States. The effects of CBD on the human body appear to be two-fold. First, CBD regulates extreme inflammatory responses, preventing autoimmune damage. Second, CBD works with a person’s immune system to prevent the replication and spread of the virus.
COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus infecting and replicating inside host cells. While CBD was initially investigated due to its anti-inflammatory properties, further research determined that it actively hindered the SARS-CoV-2 replication process.
To infect a human cell, the virus first has to enter it. The most common way SARS-CoV-2 infection begins is when the spike protein binds to an ACE2 receptor, a protein outside of human cells. From there, it can inject viral RNA into the cell, taking over cell processes and using them to make copies of the proteins that make up the virus.
CBD and its metabolite, 7-OH-CBD, prevent the viral RNA from taking over the host cell by preventing the viral genes from being expressed. Neither CBD nor 7-OH-CBD prevent viral entry but stop viral genes from being translated into proteins. This prevents the virus from copying itself, and soon the host cell can destroy the viral RNA and remove the infection entirely.
Hepatitis C is a potentially deadly viral infection that can lead to liver damage, liver fibrosis, and liver cancer. Although there is a vaccine for the hepatitis B virus, no vaccine for hepatitis C has passed clinical trials.
One of the major causes of long-term damage from hepatitis C is liver fibrosis. In this condition, an excess of extracellular proteins such as collagen builds up in the liver, preventing liver function. Eventually, this can lead to liver failure, requiring the patient to have a liver transplant to survive.
Liver fibrosis is caused by the immune system attacking healthy and potentially infected cells, causing a buildup of non-cellular tissue. In this case, the majority of the damage to the liver is done by the immune system, not the virus.
Treatment with CBD prevents liver fibrosis by reducing the body’s inflammatory response, preventing the damage done by autoimmune attacks. This stops the body from destroying healthy tissue and prevents the buildup of extracellular proteins that would cause the liver to fail. Not only this, but through an undetermined mechanism, CBD appears to reduce the spread of the hepatitis C virus between cells by over 80%.
Although CBD treatment for both COVID-19 and hepatitis C has only been tested in vitro and has yet to pass any clinical trials, the history and non-toxicity of CBD oil hint at the development of a CBD-based antiviral treatment. Strong anecdotal evidence suggests that applying CBD oil to viral sores such as shingles, chickenpox, and cold sores can help diminish pain and irritation and speed up healing.
Potential Risks and Side Effects
As CBD is a potent anti-inflammatory, there is some concern that large doses of CBD may suppress a person’s immune system. Although CBD is shown to be effective in treating excessive immune responses, it is not suitable for all viral infections, as dampening immune response can reduce your body’s ability to fight disease. Always consult with your healthcare professional to determine the best treatment for you.
In some cases, CBD oil can have negative side effects such as dizziness, nausea, dry mouth, and lethargy. If you find yourself experiencing negative effects, talk to your doctor.
The Bottom Line
CBD is promising as a targeted therapy for helping prevent and treat certain viral infections. As of now, more research is needed to determine the effects CBD may have on various viruses. If you currently have a viral infection, do not try to treat it with CBD before speaking to a healthcare professional.
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