In the mad dash to find viable treatments for COVID-19, researchers have recently turned their attention to an unexpected source – the cannabis plant. Earlier this month, scientists from the University of Nebraska and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute recommended more research be put into investigating the potential benefits CBD can offer in treating coronavirus’ most deadly aspect—dangerous lung inflammation. The researchers outlined their case in a peer-reviewed article in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
Their optimism rests on the well-known benefits of CBD in treating both inflammation and anxiety. The researchers noted that several cannabinoids—the active compounds in cannabis—have gained notoriety for their anti-inflammation benefits. Although THC (CBD’s better known sister compound) also contains these beneficial properties, its psychotropic side effects may make it less beneficial for COVID patients.
The article’s authors explain that “recent reports have suggested that acute infection is associated with a cytokine superstorm, which contributes to the symptoms of fever, cough, muscle pain.” These reactions are what lead to the serious pneumonia associated with COVID-19 that eventually makes breathing impossible. As such, scientists have turned their attention towards inflammation-reducing medicines with minimal side effects.
As CBD has already gained approval by the FDA for treating epilepsy in children, there may be more public buy-in for research backing a CBD treatment. If successful, it could offer a safer option than some other contenders currently being trialed. For example, one drug that has been tested resulted in a 90% reduction in lung inflammation in patients, but unfortunately came with a host of side effects that could be life-threatening for critically ill patients.
The authors point to earlier research demonstrating that CBD can reduce a number of pro-inflammatory cytokines associated with the deadliness of severe COVID-19 cases. They go on to explain that CBD has also been shown to increase the production of interferons—an essential protein that activates immune cells and prevents viruses from raging out of control.
Fortunately, there is earlier research to support their claims. In an asthma study on animals, CBD proved helpful in reducing airway inflammation. In the same study CBD also reduced another lung condition called pulmonary fibrosis, which damages lung tissue and makes breathing more difficult. This particular finding is very relevant, as COVID-19 can lead to the same lung condition.
Although THC has also demonstrated anti-inflammatory benefits, its association with side effects such as anxiety, disorientation, and increased heart rate make it a less suitable for COVID-19 patients. Because CBD research has shown it to be safe and well-tolerated, even at high doses over several weeks, the authors point out that this “suggests its feasibility to reduce SARS-CoV2 induced lung inflammation/ pathology and disease severity.”
What’s more, CBD has been lauded for its anti-anxiety properties. Because many patients with COVID-19 experience real anxiety because of the uncertainty associated with the illness, along with isolation, financial stress, and a host of other factors, CBD’s stress reducing properties make it especially helpful.
Although no peer-reviewed studies have yet been issued to suggest that cannabis is an appropriate treatment for COVID-19, the article’s authors say that a good look at CBD treatment is in order. They recommend that CBD be studied further to treat inflammation and anxiety in COVID-19 patients, in conjunction with antiviral medications.
While it is too early to tell if cannabis can play a role in treating the virus, there does seem to be positive signs that it could help and that more study is warranted.