With the whole world in the grip of the devastation caused by COVID-19, scientists are studying many new and existing medical treatments to bring relief to sufferers. There are currently no effective vaccines, although many are in the development process. Researchers are also busy studying various anti-viral drugs in the hopes that they will prove to be effective.
An area of interest to researchers is the use of cannabinoids as an anti-viral therapy to reduce lung inflammation. They want to find out how its anti-inflammatory properties may help to alleviate the inflammatory response of the body to COVID-19.
Reports suggest that a cytokine storm leads to acute infection that contributes to cough, fever, muscle pain and causes pneumonia in severe cases. Extreme inflammation can lead to clogging up of the lungs, which makes breathing very difficult, if not possible at all. Cytokines are proteins that cells secrete for intracellular signaling.
A cytokine storm occurs with the excessive and uncontrolled release of pro-inflammatory cytokines that overload the signaling systems. This can lead to tissue damage and even cause organs to fail. Scientists are studying ways to prevent this response.
Anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis compounds
The active compounds in cannabis have various properties that have been attracting much attention over the past few years. In the past, THC was the most well-known compound in the cannabis plant due to its psychoactive effect. CBD, on the other hand, is a non-psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant that has become well known in the past few years.
Cannabinoids interact with the human endocannabinoid system and are used successfully by many patients to help deal with pain, sleeplessness, anxiety, lack of appetite and inflammation. It makes sense that they could potentially offer an adjunct treatment for Covid-19.
CBD potential according to research
In a 2007 study, Chinese researchers were already studying the use of cannabis against SARS-CoV, so these types of studies are not new. However, recent studies relate specifically to SARS-CoV-2.
A recent study highlights the potential of CBD (a non-psychotropic cannabinoid) to help reduce inflammation. CBD has shown anti-inflammatory effects in pre-clinical models of some chronic inflammatory diseases.
CBD decreased lung inflammation in a pre-clinical model of an acute lung injury. In a model of chronic asthma, the CBD reduced cytokine production and inflammation of the airway.
Inother research, a partnership between two cannabis research companies and the University of Lethbridge in Canada found that some Cannabis sativa extracts could be used in treatments to prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Plants high in CBD could reduce the entry points of the virus. This research has only just been submitted for publication and still has to be peer-reviewed.
They found that the extracts of novel high CBD Sativa lines may become useful and safe adjuncts in the treatment of COVID-19. However, further investigation is still necessary. The researchers added that extracts could be potentially be used as a ‘throat gargle’ or in mouthwash to prevent infection.
Various other studies are being conducted around the world. In some studies, cannabis is found to help regulate inflammation and cytokines, enabling better signaling. Two Canadian researchers have been testing a novel cannabis strain for years and are now focusing their efforts on how the strain can be used to fight COVID-19.
In Israel, a possible cell therapy treatment using exosomes loaded with CBD is being explored to treat COVID-19 patients. The product will most likely be given to patients to inhale and tested as a treatment for other lung infections as well. In Israel, researchers are also exploring the use of a cannabis terpene formulation administered by inhalation to treat COVID-19. A CBD steroid treatment for COVID-19 patients is also undergoing a small clinical trial.
Some drugs produce severe side effects
Tocilizumab is one of the drugs researchers found was able to clear out the lungs and lead to the recovery of most patients who were treated with it. The problem is that it had serious side effects, including inflammation of the pancreas, which was very hard on patients who were already critically ill.
Hydroxychloroquine is another drug that has been touted as a prophylactic treatment for COVID-19. Several studies have shown that it also has serious side effects and can even lead to death.
While there may be no peer-reviewed evidence that shows cannabinoids are effective in treating COVID-19, at least CBD is safe and well-tolerated with few to no side effects. It wouldn’t further stress the systems of seriously ill patients.
CBD can help manage anxiety disorders
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many uncertainties, which can fuel anxiety. CBD has shown promise as an alternative therapy for managing anxiety disorders.
Randomized clinical trials may be beneficial to test how effective CBD is in alleviating the anxiety associated with COVID-19 infection and the physical, social and psychological consequences. By using CBD, there would be no risk of the psychotropic side effects associated with THC.
The need for caution
If you’re thinking of increasing your cannabis intake in hopes of preventing contracting COVID-19 or helping to treat it, it is important to realize that any results are still in the very early stages.
In particular, if you smoke more cannabis, you could be at greater risk of infection. Edibles and oils may be a safer option but more research is required to establish if cannabinoids are truly effective against COVID-19.
A final word
Many patients are asking about the role of cannabinoids in treating COVID-19. It may be frustrating news for those looking for immediate solutions that research is still in the early stages. Results seem promising but it will be some time before there are clear answers to how effective cannabinoids are in treating COVID-19.
It’s good that so many therapeutic avenues are being explored, including the use of cannabinoids. Current times call for innovative initiatives and thinking outside of the box, which may just bring about changes that will influence treatment of the future.