As COVID-19 continues to burn through our society, occupy most of the media’s air time, and remain at the center of many peoples’ anxieties, researchers, medical professionals, and even politicians are becoming increasingly desperate to find a solution. The interesting thing is that the more we learn about the disease and how it affects the body, the more many experts are beginning to think that cannabis may be at least a part of the answer.
There is limited evidence that CBD might have potential as an antiviral drug, but that research is in such an infant stage, that it’s a bit too early to talk about it in depth. What is more interesting than fighting the virus itself, however, is CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties.
For reasons we’ll dive into in this article, inflammation is really the bad guy when talking about coronaviruses, COVID-19, and other types of respiratory infections. There are several reasons why CBD is getting a closer look by researchers right now
- Evidence suggests it may be effective against deadly lung inflammation
- CBD has no known serious side effects
- Cannabis products are commonly used to treat anxiety
- There’s a chance CBD may be an effective antiviral drug
COVID-19 and Inflammation
There is still a lot to be learned about COVID-19, and we are not trying to add to the near endless noise of speculation about its spread, lethality, or long term effects. Trust me, we are just as tired as you are of hearing the endless back and forth coming from every angle on TV and social media. What is clear about coronaviruses and other respiratory illnesses like the flu, though, is that the inflammation resulting from them can lead to severe complications.
The culprit, paradoxically, is your immune system itself. As the infection replicates and spreads within your respiratory tract, your immune system attempts to rally the troops and fight back. It’s this attempt to kill the virus and halt its spread that leads to your lungs and airways swelling and becoming inflamed. This inflammation can get so bad that it is clearly visible to doctors on chest X-rays or CT scans.
Inflammation and COVID-19 Pneumonia
As your immune system tries to fight off the virus, inflammation can cause fluid and dead cells to build up in your lungs. This build up interferes with the transfer of oxygen and leading to the telltale symptoms of coughing and shortness of breath. These conditions can also lead to COVID-19 pneumonia and even acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a progressive type of respiratory failure that occurs when the air sacs in the lungs fill up with fluid.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the most common diagnosis for severe COVID-19 is severe pneumonia. Essentially, in these serious cases, the virus progresses through the respiratory tract and into a person’s lungs. The body responds with inflammation and the lungs’ air sacs, or alveoli, fill with fluid and pus, causing pneumonia. People with severe cases of pneumonia may have lungs that are so inflamed they cannot take in enough oxygen or expel enough carbon dioxide.
When Is It Too Much Inflammation: Cytokine Storms
A cytokine storm describes a situation in which the body strongly overreacts to a virus or infection. In a nutshell, cytokines are a broad category of proteins that the immune system uses to send messages to its various components. This “storm” is when the immune system releases far too many of the protein messengers into the bloodstream in relation to the severity of the threat.
When this happens, your body’s immune system will attack healthy tissues and organs, potentially causing significant harm. A cytokine storm triggers an inflammatory response that is far too strong and that may damage a wide range of organs and body parts including:
- Blood vessels
When it comes to COVID-19, the storm may cause more problems than the illness itself.
CBD vs. Inflammation
We’ve discussed this topic in previous articles of ours; that our immune systems often overreact in a range of different health situations. This may be counter-intuitive, but in trying to protect our bodies, the immune system can sometimes go too far or provide a response that isn’t needed. A cytokine storm is just an example of the most severe type of immune system overreaction.
When the system chronically overreacts it is known as an autoimmune disorder. Conditions like Crohn’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and many others, are all the result of misplaced or overactive immune responses. The same concept often holds true for viral infections. If our bodies are confronted with something they’ve never faced before, like COVID-19 or a new flu strain, then they react by throwing in all the troops.
The problem is that this method can actually cause more damage than the illness itself in many cases. As we just pointed out with COVID-19, the immune system’s reaction leads to inflammation, fluid build up, coughing symptoms, and, in severe cases, pneumonia.
When it comes to autoimmune disorders or novel viruses, “improving” your immune system means making it less sensitive and less active so that it stops attacking the body’s own cells and tissues. CBD is thought to accomplish this tempering in the following ways:
- 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 researchhas also indicated the CBD may inhibit the production and suppression of immune system T-cells
CBD and COVID-19 Caused Inflammation
Okay, let’s bring all this information back to how COVID-19 inflammation relates specifically to CBD products. A new study conducted by researchers at the Medical College of Georgia shows that CBD might help patients with COVID-19 who display signs of respiratory distress. By taking CBD, they may be able to avoid extreme interventions like mechanical ventilation as well as death from acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Currently, researchers are looking into various drugs to reduce cytokine activity, thereby helping prevent the immune system from reacting too strongly. A study of one drug, called Tocilizumab, showed that it was able to clear out the lungs and resulted in recovery for 90% of patients. However it also produced serious side effects like inflammation of the pancreas and hypertriglyceridemia.
The appeal of CBD, as you may have guessed, is that it has the potential to reduce inflammation with studies showing no proof of harmful side effects. Research has already shown that CBD is a novel anti-inflammatory drug, working through the CB1 and CB2 receptors present throughout our bodies to temper immune responses.
Additionally, past research also supports the notion that CBD may reduce lung inflammation specifically. An animal study from 2019 concluded that CBD was able to reduce the production of proinflammatory cytokine production and reduce airway inflammation in “patients” suffering from asthma.
How CBD Affects the Immune System
Put simply, cannabinoids like CBD trigger receptors found throughout the endocannabinoid system. These triggers then initiate changes throughout our nervous and other body systems. Scientists have now concluded that cannabinoids can modulate many physiological systems in the human brain and body.
When it comes to our immune response and inflammation related to COVID-19, CB2 receptors are most important. These receptors are often found on the cells of our immune system, which allows them to help moderate and respond to inflammation and other responses to pathogens.
If you use CBD products to combat conditions of an overactive immune system (i.e. arthritis, asthma, allergies, autoimmune disorders or digestive issues like inflammatory bowel disease), then those are your CB2 receptors hard at work.
Conclusion: CBD May Improve Lung Function during COVID-19
We’ll follow up on this topic when there is more to report, but the research so far looks promising for CBD aiding lung function during viral infections. They way it would accomplish this is by tempering your body’s immune response, which, in turn, reduces inflammation and its associated complications. The best part about all this is that CBD has no known serious negative side effects and has been reported to help reduce anxiety, which often accompanies serious illness.