2020 was supposed to be THE year for cannabis. More states fully legalized cannabis (including my home state of Illinois) and progress was made in numerous others on some form of law allowing increased access. The CBD market was growing—it was being infused into cocktails, beauty treatments, food, and in so many other products in beneficial ways. Then, the COVID pandemic suddenly hit and everything changed forcing everyone to adjust to a new normal. Luckily there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel. We have a vaccine! As a nurse, I took my first dose this week. I had no symptoms afterwards except a sore arm for which I applied my Equilibria balm to the area and took an extra 10mg of the tincture that left me pain free.
The history of cannabis has been a story of fear, misunderstanding, and regulation that prevents it from being properly studied. Things were finally starting to change, but then the COVID pandemic caused a lot of the momentum to stop in its tracks—the economy, socializing, and even educational conferences and research came to a halt. However, what could have been a huge negative—setting research on cannabinoids back even farther—turned out to be an advantage for CBD and cannabis. COVID is a novel virus, which basically means that in January 2020 no one knew anything about it. Doctors and scientists were trying and testing anything and everything until something stuck; a few things did show promise such as an antiviral drug, Vitamin D supplementation, anticoagulation meds to prevent blood clots and strokes, proning (think tummy time for adults)…and even CBD.
Now, if anyone tells you that CBD (or any other substance for that matter…okay, other than the vaccine) can cure, prevent, or protect you from COVID, then they are either lying or drastically misinformed. However, there is some good evidence out there to suggest that CBD and cannabis may have a role in the treatment of COVID and alleviation of associated symptoms.
What do we know so far? There are multiple ongoing studies to see if CBD can be implemented as a way to help control COVID symptoms.
Well, in the early 2000s scientists did studies that showed cannabis to be a very potent anti-inflammatory that helps decrease inflammation, perhaps more than NSAIDs (e.g. Ibuprofen/Motrin, Naproxen/Aleve) or even steroids (e.g. Prednisone). More research is needed, but the following passage is very promising regarding utilizing CBD to control inflammatory processes: “several studies showed that cannabinoids downregulate cytokine and chemokine production and, in some models, upregulate T-regulatory cells (Tregs) as a mechanism to suppress inflammatory responses.” (Nagarrkatti et al 2009)
To translate the above statement, it’s very possible that cannabis can play a role in decreasing inflammation. When does inflammation strike? Often. Inflammation happens in our body in little injuries like a pulled muscle to chronic autoimmune diseases to scary new novel viruses such as COVID.
The anti-inflammatory effects of various cannabinoids have been shown time and time again in studies. This means that CBD may prove to be useful for controlling symptoms or preventing worsening of the disease process in viral illnesses such as COVID, where the most severe cases are due to an uncontrolled inflammatory response in the body (you may have heard reference to the cytokine storm in very extreme cases of COVID).
Some studies have shown that cannabinoids can affect the expression of proteins on the surface of cells (like ACE-2 receptors) that the virus binds to in order to get inside cells. So the hypothesis is: Could CBD cause cells to have less proteins on the surface that the virus needs to get inside, making it more difficult for the virus to reproduce itself and spread?
One study looking at just this effect stated:
“The extracts of our most successful novel high-CBD C. sativa lines, pending further investigation, may become a useful and safe addition to the prevention/treatment of COVID-19 as an adjunct therapy.” (Wang et al 2020)
So again, while there is no cure for COVID, we finally have hope for effective prevention in the form of a vaccine, but until that vaccine makes its way to most, we are still going to be dealing with COVID in our lives. If you or a family member is diagnosed with COVID19, then continuing to use softgels or tinctures are likely safe, and possibly even helpful in controlling symptoms. As usual check with your doctor, pharmacist, or cannabis nurse regarding drug-drug interactions.
CBD wont protect you or stop you from catching COVID, but the studies are promising that it MAY prevent or decrease some of the worse symptoms such as a cytokine storm, ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome), and help with symptoms of pain due to increased inflammation. As with everything in the cannabis world, more research is needed, but the information is leaning positive for concurrent COVID treatment and for post-COVID survivors in the long haul as we learn more of after effects.