Cannabis and COVID-19: What Does the Science Say?

In March, 2020, much of the world started to go into lockdown due to the rapid spread of COVID-19. The disease’s rapid spread, virulence and in some instances almost invisible symptoms spurred scientists to find a vaccine or treatment that could help. Cannabis, with its huge number of therapeutic compounds, is one of them. We even wrote about CBD as a possible treatment for COVID-19 and the safety of using cannabis during the pandemic.

There has been some further study since then, and the results are intriguing …

How safe is cannabis to use during COVID-19 (coronavirus)?
COVID-19 / Coronavirus.

What Makes Cannabinoids Like THC and CBD Potentially Useful for COVID-19?

Both THC and CBD fight inflammation.

One of the main dangers that comes with diseases like COVID-19 and influenza is an overreaction of the body’s immune system, called a cytokine storm. Cytokines are small proteins that are released when the body is fighting an injury or illness, telling the body where to fight the infection. This can cause inflammation.

This inflammatory response is useful in battling diseases, but when it goes into overdrive, can cause further health problems. Cannabinoids can be used to dampen this overactive immune response and reduce cytokine production & inflammation. Both THC and CBD have been shown to have potent anti-inflammatory capabilities, and have been used to great effect for the treatment of autoimmune disorders, where the immune system is overly reactive and attacks itself.

Cannabidiol (CBD) and COVID-19

CBD has significant anti-inflammatory properties, primarily by inhibition of the COX-2 enzyme, which is also how medications like ibuprofen work. However, CBD’s usefulness as a treatment for COVID-19 could extend further. A preliminary study by researchers at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, suggests that CBD could essentially block COVID-19 from entering the body in the first instance.

The virus binds to ACE2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme) receptors in the lungs, nose, throat, gastrointestinal tract and kidneys. CBD “closes the ACE2 door”, and restricts COVID-19’s entry into the building.

The researchers suggest a CBD-rich mouthwash that would essentially allow to coat the mouth and throat and ingest CBD sublingually. We cannot say that this is effective for preventing COVID-19, but it is an interesting concept meriting further research.

Structure of delta-8 THC, delta-9 THC, cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN)
Howlett, Allyn & Barth, Francis & Bonner, T. & Cabral, G. & Casellas, Pierre & Devane, William & Felder, Christian & Herkenham, Miles & Mackie, Ken & Martin, B & Mechoulam, Raphael & Pertwee, Roger. (2002). International Union of Pharmacology. XXVII. Classification of Cannabinoid Receptors. Pharmacological reviews. 54. 161-202. 10.1124/pr.54.2.161.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and COVID-19

Over at the University of South Carolina, Dr. Prakash Nagarkutti suggests that THC may be particularly useful in treating cytokine storms and preventing inflammation. In an experiment on treating COVID-19 with THC on some mice:

“Mice die within five days — 100% of the mice die — but if you treat those mice with THC that is found in the marijuana plant, then we can pretty much cure all of those mice.”

Now, this is not to say that smoking cannabis is a treatment for COVID-19 (smoking anything is not good for the lungs), but there are many ingestion methods like inhalers, mouthwashes, and tinctures that could prove useful.

Cannabigerol (CBG) for COVID-19

CBG has shown some antibacterial activity against MRSA, but no studies show any antiviral activity. CBG is a potent anti-inflammatory. CBG could also be useful in cases of persistent infection, and instances where bacterial pneumonia has arisen as a secondary infection to the initial COVID-19 infection.

Criticisms of the Use of Cannabis for COVID-19

The inflammatory response is useful in battling infection, so dampening this when the illness needs to be fended off is not ideal. Yes, over-inflammation is bad, but inflammation itself is not always bad. To quote the study ‘Cannabinoids and Viral Infections’:

“The anti-inflammatory activity of cannabinoids may compromise host inflammatory responses to acute viral infections, but may be beneficial in persistent infections. In neurons, where innate antiviral/pro-resolution responses include the activation of NOS-1, inhibition of Ca2+ activity by cannabinoids, increased viral replication and disease.”

Inhibiting inflammatory responses using cannabis can, in cases of some types of infectious diseases (particularly flu-like ones), increase the likelihood of virus replication. Where cannabinoids seem to come in use is either before the infection or in cases of continuing infection when the immune system has gone haywire.

Cannabis and COVID-19: Overall

All the research on the therapeutic potential of cannabis for COVID-19 so far is in its theoretical or preliminary stages, with some experiments on mice. Human trials are unlikely to take place for quite some time yet, and even a proper vaccine will take some time to develop and roll out. Cannabis and cannabinoids are not a vaccine, but could be an adjunct to other treatments and prevention of long-term negative inflammatory responses.

Cannabis is also useful for beating stress, anxiety and insomnia, which all make a person more susceptible to diseases. This is certainly one area where many people will find the most benefit from cannabis during the COVID-19 pandemic!

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Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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