Looking at the scale and duration of this pandemic it is very unusual that governments did not put much effort in the early treatment of COVID-19 (does not mean it does not exist), that could prevent tough hospitalizations, hospital over crowdedness, and overworked staff. One of the institutions that chose a different approach is located in Austria. Intensive unit doctors of Klagenfurt clinic are achieving positive results in treating COVID 19 with cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is especially interesting due to its anti-inflammatory properties and immune system support. Can the use of CBD for COVID 19 be a step closer to the solution?
We have known viruses from the coronavirus group for a long time. They are known as usually less dangerous common cold bearers. However, today we are facing a virus called SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID -19 and was an unknown variant from this family until the beginning of this pandemic. Most of infections pass with none to mild symptoms, however it can cause serious respiratory complications. In past articles we already discussed cannabis and COVID 19. You can find them here and here. Furthermore, we also discussed the mental consequences brought by the pandemic and how cannabinoids can help.
Before going into details, we would like to emphasize that the purpose of this article is not opinion division or search for alternative means of protection. The purpose is to objectively review the effects of cannabinoids on treating COVID 19 and the results of their use in practice.
WHAT WE ALREADY KNOW
Many studies have confirmed that certain cannabinoids and terpenes have antiviral and antibacterial effects. They also affect our inflammatory and immune response to the presence of pathogens. Research have shown that CBD has and antiviral effect on SARS-CoV-2 as well. In laboratory tissue testing it has shown to decrease the virus reproduction. As it seems, cannabinoids have a very good potential to positively affect COVID-19 infection in various ways.
The first path of virus entry to our cells is via the ACE2 receptor and S1 protein on the spikes of the virus. Studies have shown that completely isolated cannabidiol does not reduce the expression of these protein in our cells. However, some cannabis extracts with a higher CBD content compared to other cannabinoids have shown to efficiently reduce the expression of ACE2 and TMPRSS2. In this way it creates a lack of positions for the virus to bind to and consequently less of the virus can reach our cells.
The second path is related to our COVID 19 immune response. On their surface, immune cells have a great number of cannabinoid receptors. Studies have shown that cannabinoids inhibit T-lymphocytes activity and change the synthesis of cytokines (important signaling molecules for communication between cells and harmonized immune response). Cytokines can be divided to inflammatory and anti-inflammatory. A change in their balance can lead to a heavy inflammatory reaction called a “cytokine storm”. This heavy inflammatory occurrence begins when an individual’s immune system excessively responds and attacks healthy cells.
Various past research has shown that combination of terpenes and cannabinoids affect the overproduction of cytokines. Compared to other types of SARS viruses, in SARS-CoV-2 it occurs with a delay, but more pronounced. Moreover, many researchers have found that cannabinoids reduce the production of cytokines (IL-6, TNF-alfa) and reduce the excessive immune response in conditions similar to COVID-19. You can read more about the effects of cannabinoids on our immune system here.
CBD AND LUNG FUNCTION
Currently CBD is not only seen as a potential antiviral solution in the early stages of infection, but also as a protection against an excessive response of our immune system in the later stages. Especially due to its anti-inflammatory capabilities, CBD can improve our lung function, the exchange of gases, oxygen saturation, and arteries release. Furthermore, it also has a protective function on our cardio-vascular system and nerves. That is why it can consequently prevent and reduce potential cardio-vascular and neurologic complications of COVID-19. Due to the research on positive effects of CBD for COVID 19, there are many further ongoing studies worldwide. However, currently we do not have complete evidence that individual cannabinoids or particular cannabis products protect against infection or their efficiency in treating COVID 19. We will examine a practical case of cannabinoid use in an Austrian clinic further in this article.
A carefully planned placebo clinical study was conducted, that should define the role of CBD in preventing infection and early treatment of SARS-CoV-2. Authors examined chemical effects on 82 patients that consumed CBD before the pandemic. This group was compared to patients without a history of cannabidiol use. The results showed that only 1.2% of CBD users tested positive for COVID-19, compared to non-users where this share was 12.2%. The lower percentage points to potential effectiveness of CBD against the virus infection. However, many more research will have to be conducted to get better results, as there are many factors that can affect the infection process.
AUSTRIAN CLINIC, CANNABIDIOL, AND COVID 19
An Austrian clinic began to use CBD for COVID-19 patients. The treatments are conducted in a 3-week period. At first, doctors of the Klagenfurt clinic used 200 mg doses, which were later on increased to 300 mg. They used CBD on 50 patients and observed, that infection symptoms disappeared much faster compared to the control group.
Dr. Rudolf Likar, the Klagenfurt clinic head of intensive care claims that they noticed a decrease in blood inflammation parameters and patients can be discharged faster compared to the control group. The goal of this therapy is to prevent the excessive immune response, which can lead to other complications and even death. Moreover, they noticed CBD helps restore the blood oxygen saturation and lungs of patients who already have pneumonia healed much faster. Dr. Likar is certain that CBD supports our immune system and will be used routinely in this hospital from now on. We can expect that even more medical institutions will start to use cannabidiol.
He also emphasizes the additional benefit of using CBD for COVID-19 in the lack of side effects for patients. However, he added that the process and effectiveness of CBD in treating coronavirus is not yet completely understood. Much research has to be conducted to learn even more about it, however the first results seem very promising. Furthermore, EFA report states that other studies from the UK, Canada, and Israel confirmed positive effects of CBD therapy for COVID 19 as well. Israel is currently in the process of approving the drug as part of COVID 19 treatment.
CANNABINOIDS SHOW POTENTIAL
Experts that are studying the relationship between cannabinoids and the immune system already discovered many positive effects of cannabinoids on inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. Additionally, they are very efficient in treating anxiety, nausea, vomiting, and reducing pain. Furthermore, studies also showed that cannabinoids have a soothing effect and can greatly improve the quality of sleep. As we could see, a great potential in treating COVID-19 is observed as well. Although we still need much research, this is a large step towards the development of cannabinoid-based treatments. If full spectrum preparations could be used, we can only imagine the extent of positive effects due to the entourage effect (looking at other conditions, where such preparations were used).