When the COVID-19 pandemic began, medical researchers were scrambling to find the best way to treat the viral infection. With numbers rising and deaths beginning to accumulate, the race was on to ensure that as few people as possible experienced the worst possible fate after contracting the infection. With that research came various treatment options, some of which were shown to be viable, with others being deemed unsuitable.
One such treatment option that researchers have looked into is medical cannabis. With the therapeutic effects of cannabis well-studied in recent years, many claims behind cannabis treatment for various health conditions have been validated several times over. But can cannabis be used to help treat COVID-19?
Can cannabis help treat COVID-19?
Considering the sheer number of medical conditions medical cannabis has been proven to help treat symptoms of, it’s only natural that people may be wondering if it can help with COVID-19. Some studies have found that cannabis does in fact play a role in the healing of COVID-19. One study published in January 2021 found that its impact on something called a cytokine storm makes it a possible medicinal tool that can be used to help people with the infection.
A cytokine storm occurs when the immune system goes into hyperdrive to help fight off an infection. While that may seem to be a good thing, it’s actually detrimental to health and can cause worsened cases of COVID-19. When a cytokine storm occurs, the immune cells known as cytokines signal the immune system to fight harder. But it can fight so hard that it is unable to stop itself and ends up attacking healthy cells in the body. The immune cells can begin to affect the liver, cause blood clots to form, and cause the lungs to fill up with fluid. Since COVID-19 affects the lungs, a cytokine storm is not a good outcome for those who have the viral infection.
The aforementioned study looked at cannabis and how it could hinder the development of a cytokine storm, and found that it was able to reduce cytokine pathways that led to an increase in immune action, essentially blocking a cytokine storm from actually occurring. (It should be noted that since COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, smoking cannabis is not recommended, as smoke can contribute to further lung damage.)
CBD and long COVID
Now that the virus has been around for a while, researchers are realizing that it can leave lasting effects. A condition known as “long COVID” is being used to describe the long-term health effects that can occur after a person has contracted and recovered from the initial infection.
Symptoms associated with long COVID include:
- Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Worsened symptoms after physical or mental activities
- Brain fog
- Chronic pain in the chest, stomach, joints, muscles, or head
- Heart palpitations
- Pins and needles in the extremities
- Mood changes
- Dizziness upon standing
- Sleep disturbances
- Changes in smell or taste
- Menstrual cycle disruptions
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these symptoms can last for months following the initial infection.
While not all of these symptoms can be mitigated by CBD, research has shown that some can be helped. Chronic pain, for example, has been shown to be greatly reduced by the intake of CBD because of the way it affects serotonin, the chemical associated with happiness, joy, and feelings of wellbeing. Serotonin also plays a role in pain signaling.
CBD has also shown to be effective at helping:
- Sleep disturbances: Cannabinoids have been shown to help improve sleep quality and sleep disturbances. This could also help with fatigue and tiredness.
- Mood changes: CBD has proven to be a helpful aid in the treatment of anxiety and other mood disorders.
Because of the effects that cannabis has on things like chronic pain, sleep, and mood disorders, CBD could be a viable option in the management of the symptoms of long COVID. It can also be helpful in the recovery of COVID-19 by helping to lessen the severity of some of the symptoms. While more research is needed in this area, the studies produced so far show promising results when it comes to the use of cannabis and cannabinoid products to help treat and manage COVID-19 and the resulting health effects it can have on people.