As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, researchers have started to look for solutions in an unlikely place - the cannabis plant. Cannabis’ active compounds have a number of properties that make it appealing as a potential adjunct treatment for infections from the novel coronavirus, and recently scientists have begun looking at its potential for reducing susceptibility to the disease, and even discussed whether it could be used as an antiviral medication.
This month, researchers from the University of Nebraska and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute are recommending more research into how cannabis-derived CBD might help treat dangerous lung inflammation from the novel coronavirus. The authors detailed the evidence for how cannabis’ anti-inflammatory powers may help in a peer reviewed article in this month's issue of Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
In the article, researchers explain that “recent reports have suggested that acute infection is associated with a cytokine superstorm, which contributes to the symptoms of fever, cough, muscle pain.” These extreme instances of inflammation can lead to severe pneumonia which clog up the lungs, make breathing difficult or impossible. So, one of the important strategies that scientists are studying in the fight against COVID-19 is reducing inflammation.
In particular, researchers are looking at drugs which reduce IL-6 cytokine activity. In a recent study, one such drug, Tocilizumab, was able to clear out patients' lungs, and resulted in recovery for 90% of the patients treated. Unfortunately, it also produced serious negative side effects like inflammation of the pancreas and hypertriglyceridemia (a risk factor for coronary artery disease). This has led researchers to continue the search for anti-inflammatory strategies - preferably ones that aren’t as harsh on these already critically ill patients.
That’s where cannabis comes in. The authors explain that several cannabinoids in the cannabis plant have anti-inflammatory properties. In particular, they point to CBD as the most likely candidate for treating COVID-19 related inflammation. CBD has shown serious anti-inflammatory properties in previous studies, it doesn't create the disorienting psychotropic effects associated with cannabis’ most common chemical THC, and it has already been approved by the FDA as safe for children with intractable epilepsy. If successful at reducing inflammation for COVID-19 patients, it could be a safer alternative to other anti-inflammatory options.
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