The way people see cannabis has been changing over the years. From generations that condemned it, were afraid what it might cause due to negative propaganda, to nowadays using cannabis for treating various medical conditions. Cannabis products are already reaching a wide population. In addition to serving as an antiviral agent in the early stages of infection, CBD can also protect the host against an overactive immune system in later stages. In this article we will explain the meaning of cannabinoids against COVID-19 and the aftermath, and how cannabis products can have an effect on great negative consequences caused by COVID-19 restriction measures around the world.
A virus which already caused many deaths, border closures, great economic damage, and a huge socio-medical problem. The symptoms of this very infectious virus can be fever, fatigue, and breathing difficulties. While most people are not affected by it, long term consequences or even death can be a result in some cases.
Due to its potential of treating various medical conditions via endocannabinoid system, you might be wondering if cannabis or cannabis products can have an effect on prevention, spread, or treatment of COVID-19 infected body? To explain the involvement of cannabinoids against COVID-19 and the aftermath, we first have to look at the infection process and what would need to be done to prevent or treat it.
One of the primary biological events occurring in COVID-19 infected body is the “cytokine storm”. The cytokine storm causes and extreme increase in cytokine amount in our body, which leads to increased inflammation. We already explained the detailed process of infection, cytokine storm and potential effects of cannabis in one of our previous articles, which you can find here.
Covid patients are often exposed to lung fibrosis, a very serious condition that scars the lung tissue and causes breathing difficulties. To stop the cytokine storm, a compound would have to supress the inflammation, prevent lung fibrosis, and put COVID-19 patients into remission.
In cytokine storm studies it has been found that Cannabis Sativa causes a reduction in many cytokines and paths connected to inflammation and fibrosis. Two of the cytokines that cannabis reduced are TNFa and IL-6, which are the main targets for blocking COVID-19 cytokine storm and acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Several published studies confirm positive effects of cannabis against the cytokine storm. A 2020 study on mice concludes that CBD (active cannabis compound) reduces inflammatory cytokines and improves clinical symptoms in mice, with symptoms similar to COVID-19. Study suggests, CBD could be a part of the treatment with cannabinoids against COVID-19, due to reduction of cytokine storm effect and anti-inflammatory protection of lung tissue.
Cannabis has great potential to reduce inflammation and scars in COVID patients. And what could be additional benefits for patients infected by this virus? Cannabis compounds such as CBD and THC showed promise in other areas as well, including pain mitigation and treating anxiety. For now, effects on the mentioned areas have not yet been studied on COVID patients. They have been successfully tested on athletes and other population groups, where they performed amazingly. With virus symptoms such as body ache, throat ache, and headaches, many people would be glad to use cannabis. It has proven to have a great pain mitigation potential, mostly due to its ability to increase serotonin effects (neurotransmitter that mitigates pain).
You can read more about pain mitigation with cannabis in one of our previous articles here.
SARS-CoV-2 Replication Prevention in Lungs with CBD
A study conducted by a group of US researchers found that CBD can block the replication and spread of SARS-CoV-2 in lung cells. In the study, scientists used lung cancer cells dosed with natural, non-synthetic cannabidiol (CBD). It is also important that CBD was used before the infection with COVID-19. The results were surprising and analysis showed that CBD can stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in human body. Cells that were admitted CBD and infected with the virus showed a viral reverse. Furthermore, researchers are emphasising that CBD can also work after the infection with the virus. CBD can affect the infected body by stopping the spread of viral genes. Additionally, it influences the stabilization of the intracellular signalling pathway which is responsible for the diagnosis of infection.
Another study from 2020 concluded that CBD can help achieve a positive outcome against COVID-19. In this study they found that cannabidiol use can increase the oxygen level in the lungs. Moreover, it minimises inflammation and lung damage also caused by this virus. Analysis showed this is the case due to effect of CBD on apelin level increase, one of the natural peptides responsible for inflammation minimization. During the infection, apelin level in the blood is very low. After CBD use it can increase up to 20 times. This is another part how we can receive help from cannabinoids against COVID-19.
This conclusion triggered another study, where scientists focused on the relationship between apelin, immune response, and CBD. In the animal model, subjects with symptoms similar to COVID-19 normalized the apelin level and immune response after using CBD. Furthermore, lung oxygen level increase after dosing was documented as well.
Research also concluded that SARS-CoV-2 incidence is much lower with patients who consumed CBD, compared to those that did not. This was also confirmed by Chicago Medical University, where incidence among CBD users was only 1.2%, and 12.2% with CBD non-users.
CBD and COVID-19 Positivity
Chicago Medical University found the correlation between high dose CBD usage by patients and decrease in COVID-19 positivity (Rosner).
P-values were calculated using Fisher double sided test.
CBD Effectively Eliminated Viral RNA Expression
Research team’s hypothesis was that CBD targets only host cell processes. Consistent with it, RNA sequencing of infected A549-ACE2 cells treated with CBD for 24h revealed significant suppression of SARS-CoV-2 induced changes in gene expression. CBD effectively eliminated viral RNA expression, including RNA coding for the spike protein.
Additional analysis of RNA host cells showed that changes caused by the virus were almost completely reversed. Instead of returning to their normal state, those cells that were admitted CBD and virus were very similar to the ones admitted only CBD.
What About Interferon Signalling?
It is a fact that SARS-CoV-2 infection supresses interferon signalling pathways. Researchers tested if CBD can supress the viral infection by introducing this pathway. CBD induced some genes in both the absence and presence of SARS-CoV-2, including genes that encode interferon receptors and mediators of the interferon signalling pathway. Furthermore, CBD effectively reversed the viral cytokine induction, which can trigger the deadly hyper-inflammatory response (cytokine storm) during the later stages of infection.
The substantial reduction in SARS-CoV-2 infection risk of approximately an order of magnitude in patients who took CBD, highlights the potential efficacy of this compound in fighting this virus.
CONSEQUENCES OF COVID-19 RESTRICTION MEASURES
Since the start of COVID-19 different restriction measures countries used to limit the spread of infection and to protect people also started to tighten. From closure of certain businesses, home schooling, quarantines, to social distancing and movement restriction. These measures might have had a positive effect on limiting the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in certain areas, however they caused a lot of negative effects on people of all ages. From stress due to uncertain future, to anxiety and depression. There are many direct and indirect consequences due to these measures (we will post a special article dedicated to this topic in the months to follow).
Studies conducted in India show that stress effects are 4 times higher in children in quarantine compared to the ones that were not. Furthermore, studies performed in China found that young people reported an increased level of anxiety and depression symptoms due to the pandemic.
HOW CAN CANNABINOIDS HELP?
Cannabis compounds showed an amazing ability to treat anxiety, especially CBD. CBD is a cannabinoid, which could help with stress and anxiety. It can increase serotonin levels and decrease cortisol levels in our bodies. Mitigation of these elements is essential when treating anxiety, as serotonin decreases the feeling of anxiety and cortisol is a stress hormone, which is found in larger amounts in patients with anxiety and depression.
2019 double blind placebo trials concluded, that CBD reduces anxiety in teenagers with social anxiety disorder.
Moreover, CBD was very effective with stress mitigation. You can read more about cannabis use against stress and anxiety in one of our previous articles here.
Many negative pandemic consequences can also lead to sleep problems of constant waking up in the middle of the night or having trouble falling asleep. This can cause a day/night cycle change in addition to the levels of various compounds in our body that control our homeostasis. Consequently, this can have an effect on our everyday, as sleep quality is one of the most important activities in our life. You can read more about quality sleep and the use of CBD here.
What About Smoking Cannabis?
The use of cannabis is most common by smoking the flower of the plant. However, this is not the only way of consuming cannabis therapeutical compounds. Most research use cannabis oil extracts such as CBD oil.
CBD oil can be used orally, with vaporization, nasal spray, or local application (can be CBD oil, CBD cream etc.). Many methods of use do not include lungs and avoid the potentially dangerous compounds occurring during combustion (smoking) and inhalation of them.
LET’S FOLLOW THE SCIENCE AND NATURE
Cannabinoids against COVID-19, especially CBD, showed a great potential in the fight with this virus. We can mostly thank the anti-inflammatory property of cannabis for this. However, we cannot ignore a healthy way of life, diet, and stress level optimization in our lives.
We will continue to follow the research in this area. Furthermore, we were surprised by the amount of cannabinoid use in medicine research, which is constantly growing. We are certain that in the future, cannabinoids will have a much greater meaning in treating various health conditions.
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G. D. C.
31. 08. 2021
Below you can find some sources for further reading and research on cannabinoids against COVID-19:
- Rosner M, et al. Cannabidiol Inhibits SARS-CoV-2 Replication and Promotes the Host Innate Immune Response. bioRxiv, 2021. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.03.10.432967, https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.03.10.432967v1