Marijuana And COVID-19: New CBD Study

May 17, 2023
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Dr. David Pompei, PharmD, MS

Marijuana and COVID-19: study on CBD and SARS-CoV-2 explained

What does the research say about marijuana and COVID-19? New research suggests that CBD, a component of cannabis, might help block infection from the virus that causes COVID-19. Have you seen the news about marijuana and COVID-19? New research has emerged suggesting that cannabidiol (CBD), a component of cannabis, might help block infection from the virus that causes COVID-19. Please note that cannabis does not cure COVID-19, and CBD is not a replacement for masks or vaccines. Let’s explore what the science says about marijuana and COVID.

CBD and COVID-19: why study CBD and SARS-CoV-2?

Although CBD is not a replacement for standard weapons against COVID-19 like vaccination and high-quality masks, there is hope that CBD may be a useful tool to help fight viruses like SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19. According to a recent study led by The University of Chicago, CBD inhibited viral replication of SARS-CoV-2 in mice and in human lung cells. Scientists had been studying CBD related to cancer, using CBD to activate a cellular immune response referred to as the “host stress response.” The host stress response is a component of the innate immune system. This response does not target any specific organism, but when a cell detects a threat such as an invading virus, it goes into a defensive mode, releasing protective chemicals and reducing the possibility of the cell's components being used to replicate the virus. University of Chicago researcher and study leader Marsha Rosner and her colleagues found that CBD appeared to trigger the host stress response, which is crucial for cells to fight off viruses. Upon this discovery, she decided to examine CBD's effects on the novel coronavirus.

Marijuana and COVID-19: breaking down the research

The researchers conducted an in vitro experiment on human lung cells, treating them with CBD and then exposing them to SARS-CoV-2. They found that CBD-treated cells resisted infection much better than untreated cells. They found similar results with monkey kidney cells. In addition, the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma variants of coronavirus exhibited the same behavior. At the time of the study, the Delta and Omicron variants were not yet known. However, these findings were based on in vitro research, which studies cells in a lab. Living organisms are quite different. To determine if CBD would produce similar effects in a mammal, the researchers injected mice with pure CBD for seven days, and then sprayed live SARS-CoV-2 into their nasal passages. After exposing the mice to the novel coronavirus, the researchers continued to administer CBD injections to the mice for 4 more days. After this period, the researchers assessed the viral load in the lungs and nasal passages of the infected mice. They found that when CBD was given at a low dose, the viral load was decreased by 4.8 times in the lungs and by 3.7 times in the nasal passages compared with untreated mice. High doses of CBD reduced viral load in the mice’s nasal passages by 4.8 times and the lungs by 40 times. Furthermore, the CBD-treated mice appeared to be fighting off the pathogen with relative ease. Lab-infected mice usually lose weight and become ill, but the CBD-treated mice showed no signs of illness. Study lead Rosner said that CBD stops the replication of SARS-COV2, and it can do so up to 15 hours after the virus enters a cell. "That suggests CBD might work even at an early stage of infection," she said. These promising findings led the team to investigate other cannabis compounds, including cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), cannabivarin (CBDV), and THC. Their analysis indicates that CBD was antiviral when taken on its own. Interestingly, it turns out that CBD's antiviral effects were diminished when combined with THC. As a result, Rosner and her co-authors concluded that vaping or smoking marijuana won't help you fight COVID-19.

CBD and the coronavirus

Robin Duncan, a biochemist and nutritional scientist at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, and her team discovered that CBD might prevent coronavirus replication and promote the host's innate immune response. Additionally, researchers at Oregon State University reported in a recent study featured in the Journal of Natural Products that both cannabigerolic acids (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acids (CBDA) are capable of binding to the coronavirus spike proteins and preventing the virus from entering cells.

Weed and COVID-19

Several scientific studies have explored the potential link between weed and COVID-19, including a January 2021 study assessing the antiviral potency of cannabinoids against SARS-CoV-2, as well as a project aimed at developing CBD-based treatments. Numerous scientific studies on CBD or compounds derived from cannabis have shown promising results in combating the spread of the coronavirus. However, researchers emphasize the importance of being cautious about using cannabis as a tool against COVID-19 as there are not enough clinical trial studies performed in humans. Researchers also cautioned against using conventional methods of CBD delivery, such as edibles or inhalation, and emphasized the importance of COVID vaccinations. While the research on weed and COVID-19 seems promising, there are some caveats. For example, the study exploring the link between cannabis and COVID tested against two early variants, Alpha and Beta, but did not test the Delta and Omicron variants. Additionally, this study was in vitro, and similar results may not necessarily be found in human trials.

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