According to the World Health Organization, there have been 71.9 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world and 1.6 million deaths caused by the novel coronavirus as of this article’s writing. As a result, the global economy plunged into the worst recession since World War II.
In the UK, the number of cases currently stands at 1.89 million, and the unemployment rate continues to rise as hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs.
While news of the UK becoming the first country to authorise the use of a vaccine is incredibly promising in preventing the spread of COVID-19, there is still the crucial matter of treating those who have already contracted the virus and are suffering from its debilitating effects.
Research on coronavirus treatments has led to a familiar avenue—CBD—which has been proven before to have therapeutic benefits for other medical conditions.
It is of utmost importance to understand that the research this article presents only shows the possibility of CBD as treating COVID-19. There is yet to be any definitive proof that taking CBD can cure coronavirus or treat its symptoms. More work still has to be done to make such conclusions and to turn to CBD use as the first line of defense upon contracting the coronavirus.
How COVID-19 Can Affect the Lungs
The coronavirus infects human cells by binding onto angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors. ACE2 receptors normally help regulate blood pressure, but they become carriers for the virus to spread throughout the respiratory system. These receptors are plentiful deep in the respiratory tract, which makes COVID-19 more dangerous than other viruses like the common cold.
Once the coronavirus has binded to ACE2 receptors, it takes over healthy cells in the lungs and can trigger the immune system to go into overdrive. This results in heavy coughing and shortness of breath. For people who have severe cases of COVID-19, the infection can lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), requiring them to be put on ventilators to survive.
How CBD May Treat COVID-19 Infections
Evidence shows that CBD can bring multiple health benefits. It has anti-inflammatory properties, it can reduce tension in the blood vessels, it can ease anxiety, and relieve pain. Such qualities make it ideal for research on how it can help treat people with COVID-19.
Here’s what the various studies have to say:
1. Reducing the Cytokine Storm
Researchers from the Medical College of Georgia and the Dental College of Georgia in Augusta University suggest that CBD may help treat COVID-19 patients suffering from ARDS.
ARDS is caused by a dramatic inflammatory response, which is sometimes referred to as a “cytokine storm.” White blood cells release cytokines to respond to viral threats, which in turn active more white blood cells. The severity of COVID-19 prompts that overreaction from the immune system that wreaks havoc in the lungs.
For the study, the scientists created a cytokine storm in mice that resembled what happens in human cases of COVID-19. The mice were then administered CBD, which is believed to reduce specific cytokines and dampen inflammation, preventing further respiratory damage.
The treatment resulted in the inflammation symptoms being totally or partially reversed, and the mice partially achieving homeostasis or internal stability. The mice also had an increase in their lymphocyte levels that help white blood cells stave infections.
This research is supported by other institutions looking into the anti-inflammatory solutions of CBD. The University of Nebraska and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute recommend this line of study in a peer-reviewed article published in the journal Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity.
Similar work is being done at Haifa’s Rambam Health Care Campus in Israel. Dr. Igal Louria-Hayon, the scientific director of the Medical Cannabis Research and Innovation Center, leads his team of researchers in narrowing cannabis strains that can prevent the overactive inflammatory response of the immune system that COVID-19 triggers.
2. Reducing the Virus Receptors
Another way CBD is being studied for its potential in fighting against coronavirus is through the reduction of virus receptors. Dr. Olga and Dr. Igor Kovalchuk from the University of Lethbridge in Calgary, in partnership with Pathway RX, have discovered at least a dozen cannabis strains that are high in CBD can modulate the number of ACE2 receptors that end up carrying COVID-19 into the lungs.
Dr. Igor Kovalchuk said that the effective cannabis strains can reduce as much as 73% of the virus receptors, drastically reducing the chances of infection even when COVID-19 has technically entered the body and is present in the mouth, lungs, and intestines. Kovalchuk also brought up the possibility of medicinal mouth washes, gargles, gel caps, or inhalants for coronavirus risk mitigation if the research produces more conclusive results.
Additional research from the team has also pointed to the ability of certain cannabis strains to curtail the immune system’s response when it has detected the presence of the coronavirus. Much like the study from Augusta University, this research showcases the potential of CBD in preventing the onset of ARDS in patients with severe cases of COVID-19.
The Future of CBD as Potential COVID-19 Treatment
Positive news of CBD potentially becoming a viable treatment for coronavirus symptoms have to be approached with tempered expectations.
From the thousands of cannabis strains that have been tested, only a small subset has shown signs of being effective. None of the studies that directly deal with the treatment methods have undergone clinical trials, meaning no tests have been done on humans.
There are also the issues of securing more funding for this kind of research and sourcing the cannabis needed to conduct experiments.
Medicinal cannabis is a relatively young field considering its controversial history of legality, and many companies within the commercial industry that are interested in the research don’t have the resources to financially support such work. Countries like Australia require even academic institutions to get special licences to acquire and store CBD, adding another hurdle to research.
Lastly, CBD as a therapeutic product, in general, is in its infancy. Strides have been made to show its medicinal benefits, but there are still plenty of studies to be done.
It is certainly exciting to see how much CBD can possibly contribute to improving lives, especially as another means of combating COVID-19. However, it bears repeating that there is currently no clinically-tested evidence that CBD usage can cure or prevent coronavirus or treat any of its symptoms, and that it will take more time for these recent studies to produce conclusive results. CBD can help as a general health supplement but should only be treated as such.