Could Marijuana Be the Answer to Preventing and Treating Coronavirus?Here’s everything we know so far about how cannabis affects COVID-19 infection.
A team of Canadian scientists caused a stir of excitement in the spring of 2020 with claims that cannabis may hold the keys to effective coronavirus treatment and prevention. Could stopping the spread of coronavirus really be as simple as lighting a joint or popping an edible? In this article, we’ll look at how cannabis and COVID-19 interact, which symptoms cannabis may relieve, and what current research says about the potential efficacy of medical marijuana against coronavirus infection.
Cannabis May Reduce Deadly Lung Inflammation
Respiratory failure is one of the most dangerous and deadly complications of COVID-19 infection. However, two of marijuana’s major components, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), have the potential to keep this frightening effect at bay by regulating the same proteins responsible for causing severe inflammation and lung damage in COVID patients.
A coronavirus infection triggers the body’s immune response to kick into high gear. This may sound like a good thing, but it can quickly become dangerous, causing what’s known as a “cytokine superstorm.” Cytokines are proteins that naturally increase inflammation levels in the body as it fights off infections. But when the body overreacts and releases too many cytokines, the result is severe inflammation that can do permanent damage to the organs and worsen symptoms such as fever, cough, and muscle aches. When present in the lung tissue, a cytokine superstorm can lead to pneumonia, extreme difficulty breathing, and respiratory failure, which is believed to be the cause of many COVID-related deaths.
CBD and Coronavirus
CBD may be the cannabinoid with the greatest potential to keep coronavirus cases from turning deadly. In animal studies focused on asthma, CBD was shown to reduce cytokines and improve the condition of airway passages. These asthma studies also found that CBD reduced pulmonary fibrosis, which is also a potential complication of COVID infection. Pulmonary fibrosis is characterized by the thickening of the lung tissue as a result of scarring and damage to the lungs.
CBD’s lack of significant side effects when used on its own (drowsiness, stomach upset, and dry mouth are among the most common) would make it an ideal treatment option if proven effective. However, more research is needed to determine whether the entourage effect plays a role in CBD’s ability to reduce lung inflammation. The entourage effect refers to the way marijuana’s various chemical compounds interact, often enhancing one another’s effects.
THC and Coronavirus
THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, naturally binds to CB2 receptors, which are found on immune cells in the human body. This connection has been shown to reduce cytokine release. Animal studies also suggest that THC may lower the mortality rate from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a common and often fatal coronavirus complication caused by extreme inflammation in the lungs. Despite THC’s promising anti-inflammatory qualities, its psychotropic effects do raise an element of concern over its suitability as a treatment for COVID patients.
Can cannabis prevent coronavirus infection?
A primary reason why the lungs are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 infection is that the human respiratory system contains a high concentration of ACE2 cell receptors. These receptors are easy gateways for viruses to infiltrate the body, hijack healthy cells, and eventually kill them. However, studies have suggested that several varieties of high-CBD sativa hemp extracts may alter the way these and other proteins express themselves, potentially blocking COVID and other viruses from taking hold, at a rate of up to 70%. CBD has also been shown to increase the production of interferons, proteins that activate immune cells, helping the body prevent attacking viruses from replicating.
Scientists have begun looking into the idea of infusing products such as mouthwash or throat gargle with these CBD-rich extracts to reduce the risk of COVID infection by mouth by blocking ACE2 receptors in the mouth and throat from letting COVID germs in. Much more research is needed to determine whether a high-CBD treatment could effectively prevent COVID infection.
Marijuana and Coronavirus Symptoms
In addition to modulating inflammation and blocking virus entry points, cannabis has been shown to relieve many of the symptoms and side effects associated with coronavirus infection, including:
- muscle/body aches
- sore throat
Cannabis for a Healthy Immune System
Understandably, coping with the social and financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic has triggered increased anxiety in many people across the world. That anxiety is even more acute for individuals who have personally contracted COVID-19 or are fearing for the safety of immune-compromised loved ones. For many, insomnia is a persistent complement to anxiety. Fortunately, cannabis (particularly high-CBD strains) has been shown to reduce anxiety and help insomnia sufferers get a healthy amount of sleep. Managing stress and getting enough sleep is key to keeping your immune system healthy – which is, of course, especially important during a pandemic.
The Safest Way to Use Cannabis During the Pandemic
During the coronavirus pandemic, edibles, tinctures, and topicals are likely the safest cannabis delivery methods, whether you’ve been infected with COVID-19 or are trying to avoid contracting it. Underlying lung conditions can make people more susceptible to contracting COVID, so avoiding all methods of smoking and vaporizing (which carry the potential to damage the lungs) is wise while the pandemic remains rampant. Smoking and vaping both damage the lungs over time – and the worse condition your lungs are in, the greater your risk of dangerous respiratory complications if you do contact coronavirus.
Smoking Risks Also Raise the Risk of Coronavirus
Damage to the lungs makes them more susceptible to coronavirus infection – and increases the risk of serious complications if you do contract the virus. Making a concentrated effort to protect your lungs is especially important during this pandemic. Smoking and vaporizing cannabis do carry high risks of lung damage. Combustion from smoking cannabis (or anything else) releases carcinogens and other toxins into the lungs. Chemical particles and some of the ingredients in vape oils have the potential to damage the lungs.
If you typically smoke or vaporize cannabis, it’s a good idea to switch to another delivery method while coronavirus remains a significant threat. If you do choose to keep lighting up, don’t share joints (or any other smoking apparatus) with other people. If you smoke around other people, keep as much distance as possible, to avoid exhaling (or coughing) airborne germs at close range.
Can Cannabis Cure Coronavirus? Time (And More Research) Will Tell
Despite promising studies and plausible theories about using medical marijuana against COVID-19, more research is needed to determine if cannabis is indeed the key to stopping the pandemic in its tracks. A number of new studies on cannabis and coronavirus are in the works, and we hope to see more evidence of a positive connection. However, even if evidence continues to mount in the case for treating COVID with medical marijuana, organizations such as the WHO (World Health Organization) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) will likely require definitive large-scale studies involving human subjects before giving cannabis the green light as a COVID-19 treatment. Even though we still may be a long way off from official approval for medical marijuana coronavirus treatment, the research so far is encouraging.