CBD to treat Coronavirus symptoms
Wonder drug or wishful thinking
Often hailed as curing everything from pain, anxiety, muscle spasms, sleep disorders, and inflammation to cancer, skin ailments, and depression, CBD may be the next big breakthrough in COVID-19 treatment.
Two different groups of researchers recently released evidence pointing to positive outcomes when using CBD to reduce the cytokine storm (a hyperactive immune response), protect pulmonary tissues, and re-establish inflammatory homeostasis. They also believe CBD may have anti-viral properties.
Before you rush out to your local natural grocers for a giant bottle of CBD gummies, let’s take a closer look at the studies’ findings.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is an active ingredient (one of hundreds) found in cannabis. CBD is the non-psychoactive portion of the marijuana plant and will not get you “high.”
While there are countless health benefits associated with the product, the FDA has only approved CBD for the treatment of childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS). These severe and devastating forms of epilepsy typically don’t respond to antiseizure medications.
The lack of extensive research behind other treatments (the product wasn’t legal until recently — making analysis challenging to conduct), doesn’t seem to bother most Americans. According to Newsweek,
One in seven Americans use it as an over-the-counter treatment for pain, anxiety and sleep problems. They have also turned to CBD for depression, muscle spasms, digestive issues and skin ailments. One in three pet owners give it to their dogs and cats, says a survey by market-research firm Packaged Facts. It’s also been touted as a treatment for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. One medical clinic reported that CBD relieved 90 percent of all symptoms in all its patients.
While figures for year-end 2019 aren’t yet available, a 2019 report from Brightfield is calling for year-over-year CBD product sales growth in the United States of 706% in 2019 to around $5 billion — not a typo — and sales of $23.7 billion by 2023.
Regardless of what science can prove, Americans are sold. The question now is, can CBD make a difference when it comes to treating and preventing COVID-19?
Tale of Two Studies
Without a doubt, the scientific and medical communities are scrambling to find an option that will either prevent the onset of COVID-19 or lessen the severity.
Researchers out of Augusta University in Georgia theorized CBD might be able to reduce ACE2 expression and pro-inflammatory cytokine production to help combat lung inflammation.
To test that theory, the group artificially induced acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in mice. ARDS has no cure and is responsible for the most severe symptoms of respiratory distress. In addition, the researchers reduced blood oxygen saturation by 10%.
Once the mice began experiencing distress, researchers dosed them with CBD. Oxygen levels went up, while temperatures and cytokine levels went down.
The authors reported,
These symptoms were totally or partially reversed and returned to the level and condition of normal after treatment with CBD.
Of course, positive findings in mice don’t necessarily mean humans will experience the same result. More research is necessary, but this study is the first positive step in a lengthy scientific process.
Another group of researchers in Canada set about to prove CBD could prevent people from falling ill in the first place. Their non-peer-reviewed, preclinical study appears in the peer journal PeerPrints.
Experimenting with cannabis sativa (one of three strains found in cannabis) lines and extracts, the authors theorized modulating ACE2 levels in lung tissue, oral/nasal mucosa, gastrointestinal tract, kidney, and testes could decrease someone’s susceptibility to the disease.
“They grew cells in a plastic plate and aggravated these cells by adding some inflammatory cytokines to induce inflammation, then treated the cells with various cannabis oil extracts and looked at the level of ACE2 RNA and ACE2 protein found in these cells,” according to Matthew Elmes, Ph.D. in his article Cannabis and COVID-19: Breaking News or Bogus Science.
Dr. Igor Kovalchuk, study author, concluded,
Our initial findings warrant further investigation but its possible that medical cannabis products could become a safe adjunct therapy for the treatment of COVID-19.
It’s important to note this particular study has several flaws, which Dr. Elmes believes would not pass peer review. Plus, it’s an enormous leap to go from cells in a petri dish to a real-life setting.
He urges media outlets to take caution when representing the research, as this particular group has been accused of misconduct in the past. The authors filed a patent on a CBD mouthwash they are developing one month after peddling the product in the PrePrints article.
As with any treatment, sound peer-reviewed clinical data takes time — something we don’t have much of when it comes to limiting the effects of COVID-19.
Perhaps the most striking sign of our times is just how willing scientists are to look at any treatment — no matter how much it was once considered taboo.
For those who support the exploration of CBD to treat what ails us, this is good news.
Just beware of click-bait headlines touting CBD as the answer to our collective coronavirus nightmare. The jury is still out.