New Study Explores How CBD May Reverse Lung Damage from COVID-19

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A newly published study links CBD with increased amounts of a peptide that may protect the lungs from COVID-19 damage.

In the somewhat frenzied search for workable treatments for COVID-19, multiple studies have highlighted CBD’s ability to address some of the dangers of the virus. 

Of course, CBD is often touted as a cure-all for many of life’s ills, but in this case, it may be worthwhile holding off on the eye-rolls. The evidence is starting to look pretty compelling when it comes to some of COVID-19’s deadliest effects. 

The latest published study on CBD for coronavirus was conducted by scientists at the Dental College and Medical College of Georgia at Augusta. The study is a follow-up to a previous study which showed that, in a laboratory model of the deadly adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), CBD made a significant difference.

It improved oxygen levels and reduced inflammation as well as physical lung damage. In fact, a later analysis of the lungs of study mice found that the physical damage that had taken place in the lungs – like scarring and swelling – was reversed after the CBD treatment. 

The success of the July study was the instigation behind this new study, which is essentially an inquiry into how exactly CBD works in the context of ARDS (which is a common condition of those hospitalized with COVID-19). 

What the researchers found was that the virus causes a dramatic decrease of a peptide called apelin – and that CBD helps to normalize those levels, along with lung function.

So what is apelin? 

According to Dr. Babak Baban, DCG immunologist and associate dean for research, apelin is “a pervasive peptide made by cells in the heart, lung, brain, fat tissue and blood,”  and an important regulator of both blood pressure and inflammation. If your blood pressure gets too high, for example, apelin levels should increase in the cells that line blood vessels in order to help bring it back down. 

When ailing mice were dosed with CBD, their symptoms improved almost immediately - and lung damage was largely reversed.

“Ideally with ARDS [the amount of apelin] would increase in areas of the lungs where it’s needed to improve blood and oxygen flow to compensate and to protect,” Baban says. 

However, when they looked at their ARDS model, apelin didn’t do either unassisted. Instead, it decreased in both the lung tissue itself and the general circulation. But when they introduced CBD, apelin levels increased dramatically.

For the study, the researchers again used a model which, in mice, duplicates the lung damage caused by ARDS. Once the mice were experiencing symptoms (like difficulty breathing and low blood pressure), they dosed them with CBD. As in the first study, the improvement of those symptoms began almost immediately. And this time, researchers noticed that the levels of apelin increased as well.

“It was dramatic in both directions,” says Baban, of shifting apelin levels in both circulating blood and lung tissue.

In fact, the scientists reported last week in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine that blood levels of apelin dropped close to zero in their mouse ARDS model – and then increased 20 times when they introduced CBD.

“CBD almost brought it back to a normal level,” Dr. Jack Yu, physician-scientist and chief of pediatric plastic surgery at MCG, says of the apparent connection between CBD and apelin.

So are all these components (COVID, decreased apelin levels, CBD, increased apelin levels) definitively connected? 

“It is an association; we don’t know yet about causative, but it is a very good indicator of the disease,” Baban says of the apparent impact of the viral infection on apelin levels. For one thing, researchers still don’t know if CBD (or even the novel coronavirus) has a direct impact on apelin levels or if this a downstream consequence. 

So the findings of the latest study are a just first step in discovering how CBD produces the beneficial effects that scientists have observed. And they’re a long way from finished. The next steps will include gaining a better understanding of the interaction between CBD, apelin, and the novel coronavirus.

Specifically, they’ll be exploring why apelin goes down in the face of the virus and why CBD brings it up. But both Yu and Baban doubt that the apelin-CBD interaction is the only way CBD works to improve the symptoms of ARDS. 

Further research will explore some of these potential pathways.

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