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Study: Cannabis May Stop COVID-19 Infections

Researchers from Augusta University in Georgia present the highlights.
Woman holding marijuana leaf hand

As scientists the world over search for a vaccine for coronavirus, others are focused on relieving the pain of those who have caught the infection. One team is exploring how cannabis might help—and finding promising results.

"New evidence is adding support to the theory that cannabis-derived CBD may help those suffering from the severe lung inflammation that occurs in more serious cases of COVID-19. The study from researchers at Augusta University in Georgia suggests that CBD may positively impact ARDS or acute respiratory distress syndrome—a dangerous symptom in COVID-19 caused by an overactive inflammatory response," reports Forbes. "This is sometimes referred to as a 'cytokine storm.' The authors of the study explain that 'currently, other than supportive measures, there is no definitive cure for ARDS, illustrating the urgent need for creative and effective therapeutic modalities to treat this complex condition.'"

"CBD may be able to help treat this dangerous symptom of COVID-19," continues the publication. "The researchers suggest CBD may be able to help by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokine production, fighting off the storm. By reducing specific cytokines such as interleukin (IL)-6, IL-1b, and IL-17, we may be able to bring down the inflammation and thus end the respiratory distress and damage. And the results of these researchers' experiments supported this theory."

How Cannabis Calmed the Inflammatory Response

"When the infection starts we need the immune system to clear the virus," said Dr. Babak Baban, an immunologist and interim associate dean for research at Dental College of Georgia. "In the second part, we need to down-regulate it, not stop it but bring down the power of the inflammatory responses."

"The body is fighting the infection inside the lungs but that response causes damage of its own, that then triggers more of a response that becomes 'self-magnifying,'" Dr. Jack Yu, chief of pediatric plastic surgery and the Milford B. Hatcher Professor of Surgery at Augusta University, said, according to the Augusta Chronicle. "Once initiated, it explosively increases and that's also the danger of it," he said. "This is why a lot of the people die" from COVID-19.

The cannabis, they say, worked to down-regulate it. "Working in mice, the AU researchers were able to recreate the severe lung condition and then give them CBD to help block that response and improve lung function and block some dangerous clotting, Baban said," according to the Chronicle. "They also have 'very strong data' that it directly blocks a factor that helps promote inflammation, he said."

The Cannabis and COVID-19 Connection

These are not the first researchers to explore the link between the virus and cannabis. "CBD has several characteristics that make it an appealing agent to explore for antiviral activity. As opposed to THC, CBD is nonintoxicating with no abuse potential. Other plant-derived compounds with a variety of chemical structures have shown antiviral activity," says a study in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research from June. "In addition, CBD can induce apoptosis in mammalian cells, thought to be an essential component of host responses to viral infections. Three preclinical studies have examined a possible role for CBD as an antiviral agent."

This June study also summed up how although there is cause for optimism, there is still a long way to go to prove cannabis works as a salve for COVID-19. "CBD is a reasonable candidate to be studied in preclinical coronavirus models," the reported. "We are very far from the level of evidence required to consider using cannabinoids as pharmacotherapy for viral illnesses, but the perpetual high level of interest in cannabinoids as medicine presents an important opportunity for clinicians. In these uncertain times, patients' questions about how cannabis or CBD may help them—if responded to sensibly and empathically—may increase the likelihood that patients will receive evidence-based treatment that they might otherwise not receive. Thus, clinicians should be curious about our patients' experiences with cannabinoids and the at least perceived benefits resulting from their use or their hopes about how cannabinoids may help a medical condition they are trying to manage."

As for yourself: Try not to get—or spread—coronavirus in the first place. Use extreme caution when entering any indoor space that's inhabited with people you don't shelter with, wear your face mask, social distance, wash your hands frequently, monitor your health, avoid crowds (and bars), and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.

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