Can Cannabis Help Fight COVID?

Liz Filmer
09 May 2024

A recent review carried out by Dalhousie University Canada has concluded that cannabis may deliver support in each stage of COVID-19, from discouraging infection to assisting with long-term COVID-19 symptoms. 

Investigators have been examining cannabis as a possible treatment for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Much of their attention was directed towards the ability of cannabis to dull the immune system and suppress cytokine storms. This is a difficult and potentially lethal immune response that appears in severe COVID-19 cases, leading to respiratory problems and organ failure. Since this point, scientists have recognised an assortment of ways that cannabis might support fighting the disease. 

Does Cannabis Have potential to fight Covid?

Covid-19 is a highly infectious and potentially fatal disease. Symptoms are varying but usually include fever, cough, headache, exhaustion, and a loss of smell and taste. As previously mentioned it can also cause cytokine storms. After contracting Covid some people can develop the Long Covid which comes with symptoms such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, insomnia, pain, and a decrease in appetite. 

Early on in the 2020 pandemic, researchers reported that cannabis has tools which may help treat COVID-19, specifically its power to reduce cytokine storms. Despite this promising theory population-based studies delivered mixed results. Some studies indicated that cannabis use raised infection rates, or only served to aggravate Covid-19 survival rates. Later research however indicated that regular cannabis users were less likely to contract Covid-19, and faired better in cases that severe enough to require hospitalization. 

Researchers in this recent review discovered that cannabis may not only have the ability to assist in reducing cytokine storms in the most extreme stage of the disease but also help stop infection early on and reduce the harshness of Long Covid symptoms.

Covid Prevention

Population-based investigations have documented reduced rates of COVID-19 infection for those who use cannabis. And although these studies don’t offer a definitive answer as to why cannabis might help diminish infection, other research does:

The COVID-19 virus infects humans by attaching to a distinct enzyme receptor (ACE2). Certain cannabinoids however such as CBD have exhibited the power to reduce the rate of expression for these receptors, and so stop or decrease the virus’ capacity to infect. 

Cannabinoids CBDA and CBGA also decrease the strength of the enzyme TMPRSS2. This enzyme permits the virus to connect with the host membrane and penetrate the cell. 

In simpler terms, cannabis may be capable of actively reducing the possibility of COVID-19 infection by restricting some of the elements that raise infection risk. 

Intervention During Infection

Cannabis may help during an active COVID-19 infection by decreasing what is known as “redox and oxidative stress:” This is an inequality between the unstable atoms and antioxidants present in the body.

Research indicates that these stress levels grow during COVID-19 which in turn can lead to more intense infection, organ damage and an increase in immune and inflammatory reactions. CBD has however been demonstrated to decrease redox and oxidative stress. This means that it may be capable of reducing the severity of the disease.

Those with extreme infections of COVID-19 can encounter cytokine storms that cause inflammation and damage in the lungs and other important organs. However, cannabinoids including CBD and THC have been ascertained to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.

Help with Long Covid

Cannabis may help those suffering from “Long Covid. Ongoing study shows the potential of cannabis to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, pain, insomnia and loss of appetite. 

Our body's natural endocannabinoid system is critical in controlling our mood, pain levels, stress reaction and appetite, altering it with cannabinoids can therefore affect these factors. 

While the current data indicates that cannabis has the prospect of aiding in all phases of COVID-19, it has to be said that the investigation is still in its infancy. More research is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn, so it is not to be assumed that COVID-19 can be treated with cannabis. It is always advisable to consult with a doctor when making any healthcare decisions. 

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Liz Filmer