As Covid-19 cases continue to surge in the US, the search for functional treatments is at an all-time fever pitch. Among the treatment options, cannabis is coming to the forefront as one of the more promising, if surprising, contenders.
As it turns out, the hard-fought-for scientific research into cannabis of the last decade (and more) has provided a good foundation for researchers currently looking for ways to treat this new, deadly virus. Just in the last several months, multiple studies have already highlighted various ways that cannabis may be able to help combat the disease.
According to one such study, CBD has potential as an antiviral agent. And recent research out of Canada found that high-CBD strains of cannabis reduced levels of the ACE2 receptor, which the Covid-19 virus needs to make itself at home in the human body.
The latest study, coming out of Georgia’s Augusta University in the past week, suggests that CBD may also be able to help with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which accounts for some of the most severe symptoms associated with Covid-19.
These symptoms include widespread inflammation, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, and the inability to maintain adequate oxygen levels.
ARDS is one of the leading causes of death in Covid-19 cases and is the product of an overactive inflammatory response. You may have heard of this kind of response referred to as a “cytokine storm.”
A cytokine storm is what happens when the body’s immune response gets out of control. We all know that an immune response is a necessary mechanism to fight off germs. But, according to Augusta University researcher Dr. Babak Baban, that same response can become dangerous if it doesn’t get dialed down:
“When the infection starts we need the immune system to clear the virus,” explains Baban. “In the second part, we need to down-regulate it, not stop it, but bring down the power of the inflammatory responses.”
Not only did CBD significantly reduce symptoms of respiratory distress in lab mice, but it also reversed physical damage to the lungs.
If that down-regulation of the immune response doesn’t take place, things get scary. Here’s Dr. Amber Dance’s description of what a cytokine storm might look like in a Covid-19 case:
“Immune cells spread beyond infected body parts and start attacking healthy tissues, gobbling up red and white blood cells and damaging the liver. Blood vessel walls open up to let immune cells into surrounding tissues, but the vessels get so leaky that the lungs may fill with fluid, and blood pressure drops. Blood clots throughout the body, further choking blood flow. When organs don’t get enough blood, a person can go into shock, risking permanent organ damage or death.”
And, according to the authors of the August University study, when a person begins experiencing ARDS as a result of a cytokine storm, there is no definitive cure. Hence “the urgent need for creative and effective” treatments.
This new research is pre-clinical, meaning that it has yet to be tested on humans. So for this study, researchers artificially induced a cytokine storm in lab mice, resulting in ARDS.
Quickly, the mice began to display symptoms that might occur in someone with a severe case of Covid-19. Their blood oxygen levels dropped by 10 percent, and researchers identified structural damage to the lungs as a result of the respiratory distress.
Then, as the mice were experiencing the effects of the cytokine storm, researchers administered CBD (at around the point of illness when a human might receive the treatment). According to the researchers’ observations, the results were conclusive:
“These symptoms were totally or partially reversed and returned to the level and condition of the normal after treatment with CBD”
Not only did oxygen levels go up, while inflammation markers decreased, but later analysis of lung tissue showed that physical damage to the lungs – like scarring and swelling – was also reversed by the CBD treatment:
“Our results suggest a potential protective role for CBD during ARDS that may extend CBD as part of the treatment of COVID-19 by reducing the cytokine storm, protecting pulmonary tissues, and re-establishing inflammatory homeostasis.”
These results are potentially extremely good news for those survivors of Covid-19 who continue to deal with the aftermath of ARDS, including damaged lungs.
Of course, this is just one study, and there’s a long way to go before CBD is accepted as a treatment for Covid-19. The promising results of this study, however, will help pave the way for the essential clinical research that will show us if CBD works as well for cytokine storms in humans.