Can Cannabis Reduce COVID-19 Inflammation?

Can Cannabis Reduce COVID-19 Inflammation?

Published on August 24, 2021 by Kristina Willis

More than 200 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 around the world to date. Accordingly, finding ways to treat the virus itself and any accompanying symptoms is a top priority for medical professionals and patients quarantined at home. Due to its anti-inflammatory capabilities, cannabis naturally enters the discussion.

Cannabidiol (CBD) and other anti-inflammatory compounds such as (E)-BCP likely reduce COVID-19 inflammation and may even play a role in fighting the infection. At the very least, positive results from preliminary studies certainly warrant further investigation. If you are suffering from inflammatory symptoms from COVID-19, cannabis products may be a viable option for relief.

Of course, it is essential to have as much information as possible when making health-related decisions. Though available studies provide encouraging evidence, controlled testing is still in the early stages. Thus, definitive results are unlikely to materialize presently.

To help you make an informed decision, we have compiled the most up-to-date information about utilizing cannabis to reduce COVID-19 inflammation.

Finding Solutions for COVID-19 Inflammation

COVID-19 is a dangerous infectious disease that most often presents with mild to severe respiratory symptoms. After infection, the body’s immune system overreacts with an aggressive inflammatory response. As a result, pro-inflammatory cytokines flood the bloodstream, attacking tissues and causing organ damage.

Most severe COVID-19 complications are directly related to cytokine overproduction. The resulting cytokine storm is a grave condition linked to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), multi-organ failure, and fatality. Therefore, targeting excessive inflammation may be an effective avenue for therapeutic strategies.

It is also widely recognized that patients who exhibit a more extreme inflammatory response have the most trouble overcoming COVID-19. Patients with pre-heightened inflammatory levels are more likely to experience uncontrolled inflammation and deadly cytokine storm.

Similarly, people with compromised lung function, such as smokers and people with opioid use disorders (OUDs), have heightened risk because of pre-existing respiratory and pulmonary damage.

Discussion: Anti-Inflammatory Medications

Over-the-counter and prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofen are popular medications for dealing with various COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, aches, and other inflammation effects.

Early suppositions that the use of NSAIDs could worsen the long-term trajectory of COVID-19 symptoms have been denounced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Concurrently, statistical analysis has found no connection between NSAIDs and worsening COVID-19 symptoms. On the other hand, the study also failed to find evidence of a beneficiary effect, though additional trials are underway. 

A 2021 study found that while NSAIDs dampen the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection, taking them at the wrong time could prove harmful rather than beneficial.

Since inflammation can be helpful during the early stages, anti-inflammatory activity could prove detrimental. Administration during later stages, however, could help prevent a cytokine storm.

Unrelated to COVID-19, known risks come with using NSAIDs in any situation. Long-term use has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and death from cardiovascular disease. Selective inhibitors have been recalled because of such concerns.

“Regular NSAID use should probably not be recommended as the first-line option for managing the symptoms of Covid-19.”

—Paul Little, professor of primary care research at the University of Southampton

Other Treatments

Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine were previously administered to hospitalized patients; however, the FDA has since revoked authorization as clinical trials revealed a lack of efficacy. One trial even showed a correlation between hydroxychloroquine and a worsening prognosis, including serious heart rhythm problems.

Using Cannabis To Treat COVID-19 Inflammation

Much about how cannabis affects and interacts with the mind and body remains under investigation. Currently, there are eight clinical trials involving cannabidiol and COVID-19, which will hopefully yield positive results. When it comes to COVID-19 inflammation, the crucial thing to understand is that the body’s inflammatory response is modulated by the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Cannabinoids found in cannabis have the ability to influence the ECS by interacting with receptors to elicit reactions.

The cannabis plant contains more than 150 cannabinoids, which interact with the ECS in variable ways. For instance, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) binds with both CB1 and CB2 receptors, while CBD can also affect enzymes and transport proteins. Non-psychotropic cannabinoids have been shown to reduce inflammation in numerous conditions via preclinical models and are currently being tested for applications for fighting cancer and other inflammatory diseases.

The Potential of CBD

Unlike THC, CBD does not elicit the psychoactive response associated with smoking traditional marijuana. In other words, the user does not experience any sort of euphoric high. Instead, it exhibits a range of therapeutic effects, including being anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective.  

CBD has demonstrated anti-inflammatory actions in acne, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and more. Studies on mice and rats have even shown reduced neuroinflammation after CBD treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Recent research has shown that CBD can reduce the number of pro-inflammatory cytokines, thus reducing COVID-19 inflammation and preventing cytokine storms. One study identified 13 high-CBD sativa extracts that down-regulate ACE2 expression in target COVID-19 tissue, potentially inhibiting SARS-CoV-2 from entering host cells altogether.

What Is Beta-Caryophyllene?

When targeting COVID-19 infection, immunity, and inflammation, β-Caryophyllene or (E)-BCP is perhaps the most promising of all the cannabis compounds. (E)-BCP is found in numerous essential oils of spices and food plants, including up to 35% in cannabis sativa.

CB2 receptor activation is associated directly with anti-inflammatory effects, including those involved with COVID-19 inflammation. A study on mice found that (E)-BCP exclusively binds to the CB2 receptor. As a CB2 agonist, (E)-BCP inhibits the cytokine release responsible for cytokine storm.

Is It Safe To Use Cannabis To Help Reduce COVID-19 Inflammation?

In short—probably. CBD is often regarded as a safer alternative to other inflammatory medications, many of which have potentially severe side effects. The biggest concern for utilizing cannabis’s anti-inflammatory properties revolves around the unknown interactions it might have with other medications used to treat COVID-19.

Products with THC should be avoided, and cannabis delivery methods that include smoking or vaping are strongly discouraged as they can cause detrimental harm to the respiratory tract, worsening COVID-19 symptoms and prognosis.

Based on all available research, oral products containing CBD are relatively harmless and, thus, recommended. Future delivery systems may include encapsulated extracts and inhalers. Realistically, you do not have to worry about consuming too much CBD. The toxic dose is 20,000 mg, but most tinctures contain between 100–1500 mg.

Nevertheless, excessive intake can cause extreme drowsiness, lethargy, an upset stomach, nausea, and diarrhea. You should make sure to use proper storage and labeling to track your intake. Most importantly, if you are currently on other medications, do not start using CBD without consulting a medical professional.

Though CBD may prove beneficial in treating COVID-19 inflammation, you should still consult your doctor before establishing a CBD regimen. The suggested starting dose ranges and can differ from person to person. A CBD-informed doctor can help determine the appropriate dosage and ensure your safety by continually monitoring your condition.   

This is an ongoing story and will be updated as new information develops.