It’s fair to say that discovering truthful information about Covid-19 is hard to do. Statistics are easily manipulated or misrepresented in sensational ways. During the past few weeks you might have seen some social media posts with over-the-top headlines like “CBD is a cure for Covid-19.”
As someone in the CBD industry who has been studying the science of the cannabis plant for the past 5 years, I was naturally intrigued by these claims. After all, we already know a lot about the incredible benefits of cannabis and CBD, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if there was some truth to that claim.
I decided to investigate.
Here’s an overview of the initial science regarding CBD and Covid-19. But first, some quick housekeeping.
I’m not a doctor. This is not medical advice. This is just an analysis of publicly available science that anyone can look up. Do your own research. None of these statements have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Our products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
“The Potential of Cannabidiol in the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Hypothesis Letter” was published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, a peer-reviewed publication. The authors suggest that CBD “has the potential to limit the severity and progression of the Covid-19.” They then go on to list a few reasons why they think so.
First, high-CBD extracts are able to “downregulate the expression of the two key receptors for SARS-CoV2”. More simply, that means the Covid-19 virus would have a harder time infecting our body. Receptors in the body kind of work like a lock and key. In this case, Covid-19 is the key and the receptors are the locks. CBD might be able to change the locks enough so that the key can’t get in.
Another point, CBD is known to “exert a wide range of immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects” and can also lessen “uncontrolled cytokine production”. It implies that CBD can help to regulate the immune system and is recognized to have anti-inflammatory effects. Cytokines are these small proteins our body makes that helps with cell signaling. They’re essential for many functions including the functioning of our immune system.
However, too much of anything can become a bad thing. Overproduction of these cytokines is called a “cytokine storm” and can actually lead to inflammation and cause disease or death. These cytokine storms are suspected to be the main cause of death in the 1918 “Spanish Flu” pandemic. Some deaths from our current Covid-19 pandemic have also been attributed to cytokine storms.
CBD has also been shown to “display direct antiviral activity.” That’s because it binds to a receptor (known as PPARy) that is present almost everywhere in your body and plays a role in the response to viruses.
That same PPARy receptor can “improve lung function in recovered patients”.
Another article, titled "SARS-CoV2 induced respiratory distress: Can cannabinoids be added to antiviral therapies to reduce lung inflammation?”, was published in the journal Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity. Much of what the authors said mirror the statements made in the article from the British Journal of Pharmacology.
In particular, they talk a lot about the potential for CBD to reduce cytokine production to hopefully avoid those cytokine storms.
They say CBD can “inhibit the production of proinflammatory cytokines that have been associated with SARS-CoV2 induced multi-organ pathology and mortality,” and that in mouse studies CBD was able to “decrease lung inflammation,” potentially through “inhibition of proinflammatory cytokine production by immune cells and suppressing exuberant immune responses.” I really appreciate their choice of the word ‘exuberant’ there.
This article brought up two other good points to consider when looking at our current Covid-19 global situation. First, CBD has a high-margin of safety and is well tolerated even at very high doses of up to 1500 mg/day for two weeks! That means that people can do a high-dose treatment and not experience the negative side effects that are all-too common with traditional pharmaceuticals.
Last, but certainly not least, the article goes on to say this: “The many uncertainties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic such as the status of the economy, employment and loss of connection can fuel depression, fear and anxiety. CBD has shown promise as an alternative therapy for the clinical management of anxiety disorders.” Our mental health should be a very important part of the conversation around Covid-19 and is a real consequence of all that’s happening in our world today.
One other article, titled Cannabinoids and The Coronavirus, from a publication called Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, did a great job bringing this all back down to ground level, away from ‘exuberant’ claims and back to the realm of cold, hard science.
As that article puts it, “It is not clear whether the anti-inflammatory activity of CBD, thought to be an attribute when considering their therapeutic potential for many diseases, would be an advantage or a disadvantage when considering cannabinoids as treatment for viruses.”
Sometimes an inflammatory response is good and necessary to return to health, but other times (like in the case of a cytokine storm) an inflammatory response is bad. “Anti-inflammatory activity may not be an advantage when combating viruses because it may mitigate host immune responses to acute viral infections, leading to disease progression and possibly death.” Nobody wants that. But with a healthy dose of scientific skepticism in mind, the article does clearly say that “CBD has several characteristics that make it an appealing agent to explore for antiviral activity”.
It’s clearly too early to jump to conclusions. We need more clean data, more well-designed studies and more science divorced from conflicting financial interests. There is a limited but growing body of research for CBD, but Covid-19 is still very new and we’re learning more about it all the time.
This is an exciting moment in history for science and the cannabis plant, and a challenging time for us all. If we take care of ourselves and our loved ones, question our sources of information and do our own research, we’ll be able to come out of this pandemic stronger than ever.