Coronavirus. It’s all over the news and it seems to be one of the few things everyone is talking about besides the looming upcoming 2020 election. I’m not here to say that the virus is all hype or that it is really dangerous. I’ve seen people on social media and on the news saying everything from it’s no worse than the common cold to buy supplies and hunker down like the bubonic plague or some zombie outbreak is heading our way.
I’m not a virologist and will not try to give you even more advice on what to do about coronavirus than you are already getting from almost every angle. However, in light of everyone’s preoccupation with viruses at the moment, at Urban Roots we thought it would be a good idea to talk about viruses and CBD. This article lays out what we know about how CBD affects viruses and what researchers are saying about its potential benefits that it may bring when you’re sick.
CBD and Viruses: What It Does NOT Do
Viruses affect nearly everyone around the world, and odds are you contract some type of virus at least once a year. The flu and the common cold are two of the most common viruses that infect people, but others include chicken pox, herpes, hepatitis, Ebola, and HIV. Other, eradicated (or mostly) diseases that are caused by viruses include smallpox, measles, mumps, and polio. And there are countless more that can make us sick.
Many viruses have been notoriously difficult for scientists and medical professionals to crack. A simple organism, viruses infect your cells and force them to reproduce thousands of copies of themselves at a very fast rate. You may be asking yourself, why aren’t there more effective and readily available antiviral drugs out there? Why doesn’t the doctor give me an antiviral when I have the flu like they give me an antibiotic when I have strep throat?
The answer is, antiviral drugs have been very difficult to develop. This difficulty stems from the fact that viruses invade the host cells and take over its replication mechanism for their own uses. That means that antiviral drugs that are designed to inhibit replication of the virus can have serious side effects on the replication of the normal, healthy host cells, and lead to cell damage.
So why am I giving you a short lesson on viruses? Basically, because I wanted to underscore the fact that CBD, as well as the majority of drugs you take to ease viral symptoms, will not actually fight the virus itself. Fighting viruses is very difficult and something that modern medicine has only recently begun to accomplish successfully.
Who knows what the future will hold, but as of right now there is not any evidence that CBD can fight or kill viral organisms.
How May CBD Help Viruses?
Okay, we’ve established that CBD will not kill your flu virus or coronavirus or any other virus. But what can it do to help? In simple terms, CBD may help the symptoms of the virus and limit your immune system’s inflammatory response. In other words, it is thought that it tempers your body’s reaction to the virus, instead of fighting the virus itself.
As the research stands now, there is mounting evidence that the endocannabinoid system (ECS), our body’s biochemical communication highway, is intimately intertwined with our immune system. According to several studies, various immune system specialty cells have both types of endocannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2.
This means that both cannabinoids (like CBD and THC) as well as endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced endogenously within the body, hence “endo”) are able to bind to immune system cells. Furthermore, many researchers believe that endocannabinoids play a key role in immune function and in immune system homeostasis or balance.
It is generally accepted that CBD has a positive effect on all different types of inflammation, ranging from skin rashes to arthritis to back pain to swelling. However, CBD is also thought to reduce inflammation that leads to things like excess mucus, headaches, and clogged sinuses.
Basically, because our endocannabinoid system is intertwined with our immune system, the ECS can trigger changes within it to help modulate an overactive or dangerous immune response. Additionally, because CBD and other cannabinoids bind with endocannabinoid receptors, they can trigger the ECS to trigger our immune system.
Simple, right? But you may be asking why we would want to inhibit or modulate our body’s immune response when we are sick? That’s a great question.
An Immune Response that Is Too Strong Can Be Dangerous
When it comes to many viruses, especially the common cold or flu, it’s really the symptoms you have to watch out for, not necessarily the virus itself. In other words, often the most dangerous part of the flu is your body’s response to it. Many people who die from the flu actually die because their body’s inflammatory response acted so strongly that it damaged their own, healthy cells or led to secondary infections.
Secondary flu infections, like pneumonia, can often result from our body’s immune response. This happens because our body reacts to the flu by causing our airways to become inflamed and constricted. This slows down the movement of air in and out of the lungs and inhibits our ability to clear fluid and mucus from them effectively. Fluid in the lungs leads to the build up of bacteria that can cause pneumonia.
The prime example of this phenomenon occurring was with the Spanish Flu in 1918. Typically, those who die or who are most severely affected by the flu are the old, very young, and immune system-compromised. In 1918, however, the people who were most affected were young, healthy adults in their 20s and 30s.
The reason for this is that that particular strain of flu led to what is called a “cytokine storm”, or the rapid release of immune response cells and inflammatory molecules. This overly strong response, among other things, caused a rapid build up of fluid in the lungs leading to severe respiratory distress, secondary bacterial infections and pneumonia, and, in many cases, death.
The stronger the person’s immune system, the worse the cytokine storm was, leading the healthiest to be disproportionately affected.
CBD and Viruses: How It Tempers Our Immune Response
Let’s tie all this back together. Our bodies, and our immune systems in particular, can often overreact or react incorrectly to viral invaders. But don’t get too angry at your immune system. After all, it is busy determining what the virus is and how best to combat it, all while the virus itself is ravaging through our bodies and taking over our cells. An overreaction may be an understandable mistake.
Regardless, when our body reacts too strongly it can lead to severe inflammation which leads to fluid in the lungs, a sore throat, coughing, headaches, fever, and many of the other symptoms we associate with the virus itself. Now, many of these symptoms are designed as our body’s way to protect us and/or eject the virus. However, these symptoms can become problems in their own right and it can be necessary to tone them down from time to time.
Here is how CBD is thought to accomplish this:
- Anti-inflammatory properties which reduce the immune system’s inflammatory response.
- CBD may suppress the function and secretion of cytokines, large groups of proteins that signal molecules that regulate your body’s immunity, inflammation, and white blood cell production.
- CBD may also restrict the production of chemokine, a group of cytokines that lead immune cells to an infection site so that white blood cells can attack and destroy dangerous microbes.
- Some research has also indicated the CBD may inhibit the production and suppression of immune system T-cells.
Does CBD Inhibit Recovery from Viruses?
If the evidence points towards CBD suppressing immune responses, does that mean that CBD makes you more susceptible to diseases or viruses? Scientists say it’s a bit more complicated than that. A lot of the research into the health effects of CBD has been conducted on patients with severely compromised immune systems — those with HIV, hepatitis B or, surprisingly, the Ebola virus.
Overall, what these studies have found is that CBD and other cannabinoids don’t actually increase the number of virus cells in the body or the number of other infections that patients contract. Researchers have found that, even though it may reduce our body’s immune response, CBD has a net positive effect on the body because it may reduce inflammation and the damage that secondary conditions can cause.
Your best defense against viruses is to prevent infection. When it comes to the flu or coronavirus, that means proper hygiene and, basically, to quit touching your face so much. If you are infected with one of those viruses, CBD may be a better option to relieve inflammation than the cold medicines you normally take. CBD also may help you relax and sleep, giving your body the strength to fight the infection and get you healthy again.