As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, researchers have started to chercher solutions in an unlikely place: the cannabis plant. The active compounds in cannabis have a number of properties that make it attractive as a potential adjunct treatment for infections due to the novel coronavirus, and recently scientists have started to study its potential to reduce susceptibility to the disease, and even discussed the possibility of using it as a medicine antiviral.
This month, researchers at the University of Nebraska and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute recommend further research into how CBD could help treat dangerous lung inflammation due to the new coronavirus. The authors detailed the evidence for the usefulness of the anti-inflammatory powers of cannabis in an article publié in this month's issue of Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
In the article, the researchers explain that "recent reports have suggested that the acute infection is associated with an overabundance of cytokines, which contributes to the symptoms of fever, cough, muscle pain." These extreme cases of inflammation can lead to severe pneumonia that obstructs the lungs, making breathing difficult or impossible. So, one of the important strategies that scientists are studying in the fight against COVID-19 is reducing inflammation.
In particular, researchers are studying drugs that reduce the activity of cytokine IL-6. In a recent study, one of these drugs, Tocilizumab (also called atlizumab, is an immunosuppressive drug, primarily for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis), cleared the lungs of patients and resulted in healing of 90% of patients treated. Unfortunately, it also produced serious negative side effects like inflammation of the pancreas and hypertriglyceridemia (a risk factor for coronary heart disease). This has led researchers to pursue the search for anti-inflammatory strategies, preferably less severe for these already seriously ill patients.
This is where cannabis comes in. The authors explain that several cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant have anti-inflammatory properties. In particular, they indicate that CBD is the most likely candidate for treating inflammation linked to COVID-19. CBD has shown serious and calm skin in previous studies, it does not create the psychotropic effects associated with THC. If it is successful in reducing inflammation in patients treated with COVID-19, it could be a safer alternative to other anti-inflammatory options.
Why do researchers think CBD can help with COVID-19, in particular?
Some previous researchs also support the idea that CBD can specifically reduce inflammation in the lungs. In an animal asthma study, CBD was able to reduce the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, thereby reducing inflammation in the airways. In the same study, CBD also reduced pulmonary fibrosis - a condition in which lung tissue is damaged and scarred, which thickens lung tissue and makes breathing more difficult. This is important because COVID-19 can also leave patients with severe pulmonary fibrosis.
The authors also note that CBD is not the only cannabinoid showing promise as an anti-inflammatory drug. THC has also shown strong anti-inflammatory results, but is less well tolerated than CBD, with common symptoms like disorientation, anxiety, and increased heart rate. Research on CBD, on the other hand, shows that it is safe and well tolerated at 1500 mg per day, for a period of up to two weeks. The authors explain that this "suggests that it is possible to reduce the inflammation / lung pathology and severity of disease induced by SARS-CoV2".
Although the negative side effects are minimal with CBD, the authors of the article point out that CBD may have a secondary benefit for patients with the disease, reducing anxiety. "The many uncertainties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the economic situation, employment and loss of connection, can fuel depression, fear and anxiety," they explain, stressing that the increased inflammation in COVID-19 can also trigger increased levels of anxiety. But CBD has shown great promise for managing anxiety, and may help reduce these problems.