Cannabis and COVID-19
by Rio Kaplan, on Jul 9, 2020 5:30:00 PM
DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog is for general information only and should not be mistaken for medical advice. The producers of this blog are not medical professionals and the content of this post is an interpretation of existing data. If you have symptoms or suspect that you have COVID-19 speak to your medical professional immediately and follow established protocol as directed by your doctor.
The pandemic of COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it. We are living in unprecedented times and it seems like everyone is searching for new and creative ways to cure and prevent the spread of this nasty virus. This is a time where living in the age of information can be helpful, but also dangerous. Since the pandemic went global people have been spreading information with the intention of gaining a leg up on the virus. It seems that each week there is something new concerning COVID-19. This is because as the pandemic progresses, experts are learning more. This means that all information surrounding the pandemic is subject to change at any given time. One such development is the role of cannabis in the realm of the Coronavirus. With its ever growing list of benefits, it makes sense that it could be beneficial against this deadly disease. While peer reviewed and long term studies have yet to be conducted, there are some theories that support cannabis being beneficial.
What is COVID-19? Why is it so dangerous?
Before we get into how cannabis could be beneficial against COVID-19, it’s necessary to understand what happens in the body when it's infected with sars-cov-2. The virus causes an infection in the nose, sinuses, throat and lower respiratory system. The virus binds to and takes over our angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE 2) receptor sites. ACE 2 sites line the lungs, blood vessels, heart, and are also found inside our fat cells. These sites are believed to be one of the ways that the virus enters the body and spreads from person to person. According to the CDC, symptoms include: fever, chills, difficulty breathing, fatigue, body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, nausea, and diarrhea. The virus causes an intense inflammatory response and can lead to complications such as pneumonia, respiratory failure, fluid around the lungs, and stroke. The virus can also use our body's own immune response against us with a condition that is popularly referred to as a “cytokine storm”.
What are cytokines?
Cytokines are inflammatory proteins that aid in cell communication when the body faces infection or trauma. According to News Medical, the name in Greek translates to “cyto” - cell and “kine” - movement. It triggers cells to travel to sites of inflammation. Cytokines aren’t always bad. In cases of COVID-19, a cytokine storm occurs when an abundance of cytokines is released into the bloodstream which causes tissue and organ damage.
Where does cannabis come into play?
Thanks to the prohibition of cannabis, the full scope of its medicinal benefits are under researched at best. Even established benefits such as pain management still require further study. Since sars-cov-2 is such a new virus information is limited. It would make sense that peer reviewed studies regarding the relationship between cannabis and COVID-19 are nonexistent. Luckily for us, a team of Canadian researchers is working to change that. A study conducted in April of 2020 examined different strains of cannabis and their influences on the ACE-2 sites. The study found that about half of the strains tested down-regulated ACE2 gene expression as well as something called serine protease (TMPRSS2) which is another protein that is necessary for sars-cov-2 to enter cells. The strains that worked were all high in CBD and relatively low in THC. This means that high CBD strains of cannabis could potentially help prevent possible infection. According to a New York Post article, the study suggests that certain cannabis strains could reduce the points of entry by 70 percent. Though these findings are beyond exciting, they’re just the beginning. The study is not peer-reviewed and serves as the foundation for further, more in depth studies. The discussion of the study mentions the possibility that specific terpenes could modulate the main phytocannabinoids, but that has yet to be examined.
Cannabis is known to influence our immune system. Our endocannabinoid system is made of CB1 AND CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are located in the brain, liver, and nervous system. CB2 receptors are located in the immune and digestive systems. Cannabis, but CBD specifically is often referred to as an adaptogen, meaning it promotes homeostasis. These adaptogenic properties could be the reason cannabis is so therapeutic. The Natural Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has a summary of research that has examined how cannabis can influence the immune system. Some research suggests that there is a correlation between cannabis use in healthy adults and reduced inflammatory cytokines. A 2006 study specifically examined cannabis use and cytokine production. It suggests that cytokine reduction could be dependent on specific cannabinoid activation. Much like the study that took place in April, it only laid groundwork for further studies to be conducted in order to draw concrete conclusions.
As the pandemic progresses, people are becoming desperate to find a cure or better ways to protect themselves and their loved ones. The research that has been conducted concerning cannabis and COVID-19 sheds a glimmer of hope, but it is far from a cure. Researchers in Canada are hopeful that the findings in their study will pave the way for further medical discoveries. The specific combination of cannabinoids and delivery methods are important factors to consider. Inhaling smoke is not recommended in the wake of the coronavirus. As always, if you think that you could benefit from cannabis use during this time, please consult a medical professional.