COVID-19 has drastically impacted life in the United States since mid-March 2020. Personal opinions vary widely on risk reduction versus freedom, societal responsibilities, protecting the vulnerable versus economic hardship, masks, vaccines, executive orders, mandates, mandates that block mandates, and the hot button topics surrounding COVID-19.
Whether you have taken every precaution and then some or pushed on through, COVID-19 has no doubt impacted many aspects of your life.
It appears that the best we can hope for is for it to become endemic. With this long-term situation in mind, scientists are looking for new ways to treat and prevent COVID-19. A subject of particular focus and research is cannabidiol (CBD).
CBD and COVID-19 Studies
There are seven active CBD-COVID studies registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, not including the studies listed below. As reported by Reuters, in a wave of recent studies, CBD has shown considerable promise in the following ways:
- Binding the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to reduce infection.
- Reducing the risk of deadly cytokine storms from COVID-19.
- Fighting “long COVID”.
- Reducing the mental strain and anxiety related to the pandemic.
CBD and Acute Symptoms
A University of Chicago-led team has found CBD curbs the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in infected cells in a laboratory setting. The study can be viewed at Science.org.
“CBD has anti-inflammatory effects, so we thought that maybe it would stop the second phase of COVID infection involving the immune system, the so-called ‘cytokine storm.’ Surprisingly, it directly inhibited viral replication in lung cells,” said Marsha Rosner, PhD, Charles B. Huggins Professor in the Ben May Department of Cancer Research and a senior author of the study.
“Our results suggest that CBD and its metabolite 7-OH-CBD can block SARS-CoV-2 infection at early and even later stages of infection. The mechanism appears to be mediated in part by activation of the IRE1α RNase and interferon pathways. In addition to these cell-based findings, pre-clinical studies show that CBD treatment reduced viral titers in the lungs and nasal turbinates of SARS-CoV-2-infected mice.”
In layman’s terms, this study suggests that CBD helps to mediate replication of the COVID-19 virus within the enzyme known as IRE1α RNase as well as in the interferon pathway, which is critical in signalling the human immune response, particularly in regulating and defending against viruses.
The experiment used CBD that had been obtained from two chemical vendors and two commercial vendors of USA hemp-derived CBD. Relying on two sources helped to confirm that CBD was responsible for the viral inhibition.
One important observation, “No toxicity was observed for any of the CBD preparations at the doses used to inhibit viral infection.”
Promising UChicago Medicine Study Follows Up on Initial Findings
CBD has proven to be a fruitful and unexpected avenue for treating COVID-19. UChicago Medicine expanded on the findings by Rosner and her team. The study was conducted by first treating human lung cells with CBD for two hours. The cells were then exposed to SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus responsible for COVID-19. Careful to monitor the spike protein of the virus, they found that higher levels of CBD blocked the ability of the virus to replicate.
CBD did not stop SARS-CoV-2 from entering the cell. It was effective at blocking replication early in the infection cycle and six hours after initial infection. This is important because viruses replicate by hijacking the gene expression machinery of the cell. This mechanism is used to create copies of the virus and its viral proteins. This was terrifyingly evident during the early days of COVID-19.
The advance of the COVID-19 infection can be tracked by observing the RNA of the cell for virus-induced changes. CBD in high concentrations almost completely blocked this expression of viral RNAs.
“We just wanted to know if CBD would affect the immune system,” Rosner said. “No one in their right mind would have ever thought that it blocked viral replication, but that’s what it did.”
CBD blocked SARS-CoV-2 replication by generating antiviral cell proteins called interferon.
The study was expanded and found that CBD had the same effect in two other types of cells. Replication of three variants of SARS-CoV-2 and the original strain were blocked by CBD.
National Study of CBD Users
Running parallel to UChicago Medicine’s study was a statistical analysis of patients who were consuming 100mg/ml of CBD at the time of COVID testing. The study of 1,212 patients was conducted by the National Covid Cohort Collaborative which states, “Analysis of a national sample of patients with active records of 100 mg/ml CBD consumption at the time of COVID testing revealed an association with substantially fewer SARS-CoV-2 positive test results.”
“A clinical trial is necessary to determine whether CBD is really effective at preventing or suppressing SARS-CoV-2 infection, but we think this may have potential as a prophylactic treatment,” said Rosner. “Maybe you’re in a hot spot or you think you might have been exposed or you’ve just tested positive — that’s where we think CBD might have an effect.”
“CBD works on our cells after the virus enters – it’s not targeting the virus directly. What it’s doing is activating one of our own systems to respond to pathogens.”
CBD Blocks Entry of COVID-19 Into Cells
A study at Oregon State University further solidifies CBD’s potential. In this study, a chemical screening technique developed by the school’s Global Hemp Innovation Center showed the ability of hemp compounds to prevent the virus that causes COVID-19 from entering human cells.
The study, led by Richard van Breemen, found that a pair of cannabinoid acids bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, blocking a critical step on the road to infection.
This study dovetails with the University of Chicago findings which discovered CBD was effective at stopping the replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus once it enters the cell. This one-two punch of prevention and slowing of infection makes a strong case for CBD.
According to Van Breemen, “These cannabinoid acids are abundant in hemp and in many hemp extracts. They are not controlled substances like THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and have a good safety profile in humans. And our research showed the hemp compounds were equally effective against variants of SARS-CoV-2, including variant B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the United Kingdom, and variant B.1.351, first detected in South Africa.”
“Any part of the infection and replication cycle is a potential target for antiviral intervention, and the connection of the spike protein’s receptor binding domain to the human cell surface receptor ACE2 is a critical step in that cycle,” he said. “That means cell entry inhibitors, like the acids from hemp, could be used to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and also to shorten infections by preventing virus particles from infecting human cells. They bind to the spike proteins so those proteins can’t bind to the ACE2 enzyme, which is abundant on the outer membrane of endothelial cells in the lungs and other organs.”
CBD and Long-Haul COVID-19
The aforementioned studies have mostly focused on CBD as a preventative measure to combat initial COVID-19 exposure. The University of Chicago study examined if the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD can potentially fend off the life-threatening cytokine storms of COVID-19. It is this intense immune reaction that contributes to COVID-19’s deadliness. University of Chicago researchers found it blocked replication of the virus. The Oregon State study investigated if CBD could block SARS-CoV-2 infections and the results were promising as it seemed to bind to the spike protein.
A third area of COVID-19 being researched is Long-Haul COVID. Patients suffering with what is commonly known as “long COVID” deal with a wide range of maladies ranging from pain, anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, elevated pulse rates, and a myriad of other issues. These symptoms are not dissimilar to the reasons that many people use CBD in the first place.
A CBD-heavy formulation known as MediCabilis is in the early stages of a clinical trial. MediCabilis is being given to 30 long-haul COVID patients in the United Kingdom through a non-profit group, Drug Science UK, led by Imperial College London neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt. He is optimistic about the outcome of this study, which will run from February 2022 to June 2022. An earlier study by this group found cannabinoid treatments increased the quality of life for 75 patients with anxiety, chronic pain, PTSD, and MS.
David Badcock, the CEO of Drug Science UK, told The Daily Beast, “As there is no established medical treatment for the [long COVID] condition, we felt it was important to study every possible option for people who’ve become ill during the pandemic—including medical cannabis.”
Drug Science UK’s clinical trial is still in the early stages and is focused specifically on determining if medical cannabis is safe for long COVID patients to take. If their initial research is successful, Nutt and his team have plans to further the study into a randomized controlled trial.
CBD Could Combat Long COVID
The Daily Beast interviewed José Alexandre de Souza Crippa, a psychiatrist at Ribeirão Preto Medical School at the University of São Paulo.
“We have already done studies in animals, and cannabidiol seems to have a neuroprotection and anti-cognitive deficit effect, which is a key problem in long COVID,” said Crippa. “So it’s reasonable to infer that cannabidiol might prevent this in the long-term.”
Crippa also conducted a study of healthcare workers at the Ribeirão Preto Medical School University Hospital. Of the 118 subjects, half took 300mg of CBD. They also received regular phone calls from a psychiatrist and motivational videos. The other half received a placebo plus the same supporting videos and calls.
“After this one month, it was clear that the group that received cannabidiol did much better,” said Crippa.
Psychological Toll of COVID-19
Steve Laviolette, a professor of anatomy and cell biology at Western University in Canada, feels CBD may be useful for fighting the psychological toll of the pandemic. In an earlier study, Laviolette demonstrated CBD can block the formation of fear related memories in rats by interacting with serotonin pathways in the brain.
“Serotonin, of course, is really important for anxiety and mood disorders,” he told The Daily Beast. “Most of the major drugs that treat those disorders target the serotonin system, so it’s very promising that CBD also seems to produce anti-anxiety effects for the serotonin pathway.”
There are an additional pair of trials being conducted at the University of Texas in Austin to determine the effect of CBD on coping and stress.
The information in this article is educational. It is not intended as medical advice. The statements regarding have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Our products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult with a physician before implementing a plan for CBD therapy.