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The unpredictable novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 has swept the world in a matter of months, seriously threatening the globe with extreme health complications and death while significantly altering daily life for almost everyone.1 As of mid-May, some states in the U.S. began to lift certain restrictions, and as they did, the anticipated death toll again began to climb.2 Harvard Virus expert Marc Lipsitch told CBSNEWS in a recent interview that based upon current modeling, he expects 40-70 percent of people around the world may contract the disease.3
While coronaviruses (the viruses that cause colds and flu) are not new, the novel coronavirus presents unique challenges. U.K. pandemic modeling suggests that a person with COVID-19 can spread it to as many as three people compared to around one for the flu, and they may be able to spread it before they have symptoms.4 Additionally, COVID-19 appears to trigger a variety of inflammatory conditions in those who catch it, ranging from mild to deadly. And one thing that concerns many is that very healthy people may develop serious COVID-19 complications.5
One of the earliest reported inflammatory conditions caused by COVID-19 was a pneumonia-like illness that can sicken and kill. This is still the most common way that patients die from COVID.6 Science Daily reports that a hyper-inflammatory cytokine storm (immune overreaction) was likely the primary cause of death in several viral outbreaks.7 Cytokines are a specialized group of proteins that regulate inflammatory responses to disease and infection. Ideally, cytokines respond in a measured way, just enough to destroy the invaders, but when overwhelmed, they may begin attacking healthy cells.
There is still much to learn about COVID-19, and many false claims are being made about cures and treatments. Among them is the notion that Cannabidiol (CBD) has the capacity to kill the virus or stop its contagion. Although there is no evidence that CBD, or any cannabinoid, is an antiviral, it may have a place in your COVID-19 complications prevention toolkit. Here is what we know so far.
Can Cannabis Calm a Cytokine “Immune Storm”?
There is still a lot we don’t know about this disease and COVID-19 induced cytokine storms. There also currently exists no cure, treatment, or vaccine for said pandemic, so it is also unclear whether cannabis can calm a COVID-19 cytokine storm. But pre-trial studies suggest that CBD may “downgrade” cytokine response and reduce inflammation.8,9
Scientists are also actively studying the use of cannabinoids like CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) to treat or manage:
- Pain in adults10
- Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting11
- Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis 12
While there has also been some research that suggests that cannabinoids may act as an antivirus, there is a double-edged sword in viral infections and anti-inflammation because, ultimately, you need some inflammation (immune response) to prevent a virus from spreading.13 There is concern by some that the anti-inflammatory properties of THC, the main component of cannabis, and the substance that causes a marijuana high, may impact the immune system’s ability to fight viral infections, which could reduce a person’s chances of preventing disease severity and beating the disease. This concern is not prevalent with CBD simply because there is more research available for CBD and inflammation because it is now federally distinguished from THC. CBD also acts as a potent anti-inflammatory, thanks to its ability to balance cytokine production and inhibit immune cell function without suppressing much-needed immune function, as demonstrated in scientific studies. Additionally, unlike THC, it is devoid of psychotropic effects and addictive potential.
Certainly not. While COVID-19 is too new to have had adequate studies regarding CBD’s effect, cannabinoids have been reported to help certain types of viral infections both in research and anecdotal information.
- Hepatitis C – A CBD Hepatitis C study found that CBD may have “in vitro activity against viral hepatitis”, meaning in a Petri dish, not in a person or animal. They found that CBD “inhibited HCV replication by 86.4% at a single concentration of 10 μM with EC50 of 3.163 μM in a dose-response assay. These findings suggest that CBD could be further developed and used therapeutically against HCV”. 14
- Immune Deficiency Disorders – CBD has been found to increase white blood cells count in immune deficiency disorders such as HIV, but also modulate the immune system’s T cells and balance out Cytokine response.15
- Genital herpes and shingles – CBD Oil has been reported to aid in relieving the symptoms of a shingles outbreak, especially the pain that is associated with it because of the anti-inflammatory properties. 16
Given the conflicting data on the impact of cannabinoids on immune function, medical scientists are reevaluating their ideas about inflammation and immunosuppression. Dr. Garcia de Palau, a Spanish cannabis clinician, says that cannabis can actually bring equilibrium to the organism. Cannabis is immunosuppressive in cases where a hyper-immune response occurs, but otherwise, it modulates the immune system. Cannabis does not suppress immunity and instead appears to reduce the risk of immune system overreaction, which is what is actually killing people with COVID-19. In other words, cannabis can be balancing.
While hemp cannabis, the cannabis that is extremely low in THC, and from which most CBD is derived, was made legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, other cannabis plants still have a criminal status at a federal level thus limiting research about its potentials, so it is hard to make a conclusion about what it can and cannot do for viral infections.17
Finding Closure on Cannabis, CBD, and COVID-19
The International Association for Cannabinoid Medicine (IACM), based in Germany, issued a statement on the pandemic in which they state that cannabinoids may have antiviral capabilities based on scientific research so far. According to researchers, “There is no evidence that individual cannabinoids – such as CBD, CBG or THC – or cannabis preparations protect against infection or could be used to treat COVID-19, the disease produced by this virus.” The IACM also emphasizes, “there is no evidence that the use of cannabinoids could increase the risk of viral infection.”18
A Wake-Up Call
Ultimately, cannabis is an amazing whole plant, and we can isolate cannabinoids from it, of which the most well understood are THC and CBD. But like many plants, the organism in its whole form may offer the most benefits, depending on what benefits we’re seeking. We often speak about the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD. Still, the entire plant with its wide range of terpenes, healthy fatty acids, antioxidants, flavonoids, and yet to be identified compounds may offer the solution as the compounds in plants can often work independently, but also together, to produce mixed results.
Cannabis has potential for products effective against viruses, and the concise list of data presented here should be encouraging toward a call for increased whole-plant cannabis/cannabinoid research on many different medical fronts, especially in the United States where cannabis has been demonized for almost a century.
If you live in a state where whole cannabis is not available to you, CBD is undoubtedly still a great option. CBD should not be seen as a cure for the coronavirus, but it has numerous essential properties that address issues felt by individuals who contract the illness. Based upon the research provided here, one can conclude that it offers some antiviral, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, and if it can balance immune responses as early studies show, that has the potential to save lives. Significant numbers of people are contracting the coronavirus and experiencing nausea, vomiting, and overwhelming inflammation. The studies, as presented above, suggest that CBD and/or whole cannabis may help.
And on top of that, CBD is known to reduce stress and anxiety issues. One doesn’t have to spend too much time on social media to see that many people are very stressed about what’s going in the world right now. Meditation apps and telemedicine therapists are having their moment right now. Unmanaged stress can damage your body’s ability to fight infection, so if CBD supports healthy stress management, that may also support overall health.
Whether CBD is an antiviral is yet to be fully understood, but the many valuable properties of CBD may support a person who is fighting the disease.
Frogsong Farm produces high-quality CBD products from seed to shelf. We are a certified B corporation and USDA Certified Organic. Our family of hemp farmers produces hemp cannabis in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, on a ten-acre farm in fertile hills. We are on a mission to heal both land and people. Please consider exploring our selection of top-shelf Frog Song CBD products.