As the summer of 2020 approaches, the United States is seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases in most states across the country. Scientists are doing all they can to keep up with the dangerous increases, which includes groups of researchers beginning their investigation into the benefits of cannabis, especially in regards to treating one of the most dangerous aspects of COVID-19: severe lung inflammation. Previous research on the cannabis plant has shown it to have a variety of therapeutic properties that could make it beneficial in the fight against infections, including those caused by the novel coronavirus. 

The Studies

Researchers have been studying the medical benefits of cannabis for decades, but after the first few months of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic that quickly followed, they have been focusing their attention on ways the plant could prove itself useful in preventing and treating the disease. 

One such study took a look at the potential use of cannabis to reduce susceptibility to COVID-19. The research ultimately determined that some cannabis did actually reduce the amount of a certain protein that is required for SARS-CoV2 to enter into host cells [1]. Like most other data on CBD and medicinal cannabis, research is still in its very beginning stages on this particular use, but scientists are hopeful that this means cannabis can be used in a mouthwash or throat gargle as a way to keep the virus from entering the airways of potential victims, thus helping prevent the spread and lethality of COVID-19. 

Yet another study suggests cannabis might be useful as an antiviral medication. This study notes, however, that cannabis is a long way from being used as a pharmaceutical option for viral illnesses. The researchers go further by stating that with a strong history of beneficial results and an intriguing list of compounds that have a high likelihood of working, there really is no other option but to continue researching cannabis to see in what other ways it can be useful. Especially right now as COVID-19 rips through communities and families [2].

On that same note, researchers from the University of Nebraska and from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute have recommended that more research be done into how CBD can be used to help treat the lung inflammation so many are experiencing as a result of COVID-19 [3]. Because of its powerful antiinflammatory properties, these researchers believe cannabinoids can be added to other antiviral therapies in order to reduce lung inflammation. The research suggests that acute infection is caused by a cytokine superstorm, which causes fever, cough, and muscle pain. When these conditions combine they can lead to severe cases of pneumonia. In those critical cases the patient’s lungs are often clogged, making it difficult for them to breathe and sometimes leaving the lungs so inflamed and clogged that the patient is unable to breathe at all. This condition is why researchers are interested in the powerful anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis. 

At first, researchers looked towards existing prescription medication used for acute inflammation. While their experiments did prove it was helpful in COVID-19 patients’ recovery, it had dangerous side effects that increased the risk of coronary artery disease [4]. The side effects were harsh enough that scientists stopped using the medication and spent their time looking for something that had similar properties for inflammation, yet was not as harsh on the bodies of patients who were already critically ill and fighting for their lives. 

Here, they turned to cannabis. Because cannabis contains multiple cannabinoids that offer anti-inflammatory benefits, researchers wanted to explore how it can benefit COVID patients suffering from lung inflammation. One cannabinoid in particular is especially interesting to them: CBD.

How CBD Can Help

As the popularity of CBD continues to grow, so does the interest from the medical community. Research has begun on the power of CBD as an anti-inflammatory [5] and it has already been approved by the FDA as a treatment for children with intractable epilepsy [6]. Since CBD has already proved itself to be a powerful treatment for critical conditions, it’s no wonder scientists are looking to it for help in treating the novel coronavirus. 

As mentioned earlier, COVID-19 attacks the body and causes a storm of cytokines. However previous studies have shown that CBD can reduce the number of inflammation cytokines, including IL-6, a specific cytokine that when reduced, has been shown to improve the condition of COVID patients. Along with IL-6, CBD was also shown to reduce other compounds associated with COVID-19, including interleukin, interferon gamma, inducible protein-10, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1, macrophage inflammatory protein-1a, and tumor necrosis factor-a. Besides the above, researchers have found that CBD helps increase the production of interferons, which are important proteins that activate immune cells and prevent viruses from replicating [7].

Research suggests that CBD can target and reduce lung inflammation, even in those suffering from asthma. By reducing the production of the cytokines that cause inflammation, CBD has been able to reduce airway inflammation. It also has been shown to reduce pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that causes lung tissue to become damaged and scarred. Why is this an important fact? Because many COVID-19 patients who survive the disease will have to deal with serious pulmonary fibrosis as part of their long-term recovery [8].  

What This Really Means

Unlike THC products, overall CBD is very well tolerated and users feel little to no side effects from using it. This is important when it comes to treating symptoms as dangerous as those that present themselves with COVID-19. Interestingly enough, one side effect of CBD that actually helps COVID patients is its anti-anxiety properties. Stress adds a lot of pressure on a person and can ultimately lead to its own set of health concerns. During a pandemic like the one we’re currently suffering through, everyone is stressed. Especially those who are suffering from the disease. Since stress and anxiety can have an effect on healing, being able to control those feelings while also reaping the benefits of the inflammation suppressing compounds is especially important for patients and recovering patients [9]. 

It is important to note that no peer review studies for this research currently exist. The article in question was published with all its researched data, but that data is currently without peer review. The authors point out, however, that there is strong evidence supporting their research and they believe further investigation should be taken in order to fully realize everything CBD may have to offer. 

Like most studies regarding cannabis as a medical therapy, research is young and studies are ongoing. However, like many other cases, this possibility is interesting enough to warrant a more detailed look. This study doesn’t suggest that cannabis alone can be used to treat COVID-19, or that it’s a miracle cure, but it does present some interesting options to help reduce inflammation and reduce anxiety in those suffering through the terrible disease. That could lead to it being used as part of a coordinated treatment along with other medications and plans.

Researchers will likely keep studying cannabis and how it interacts with a number of different conditions and diseases, but right now, as the world is still reeling from the pandemic and the United States still finds itself in the middle of it, it’s especially important to look under every rock and explore every option for treating patients of this terrible and debilitating disease.