Can Marijuana Save Us From the Coronavirus? Maybe.
You’ve probably seen the headlines. They’re teasers just like this one, designed to reel you in and collect those sweet, sweet clicks. Thanks for that, by the way.
They keep getting at the same idea: that marijuana, aka cannabis, might be a useful tool in helping combat COVID-19. While most of us will read those headlines and think, “Welp, case closed. Time for my medicine!” it stands to reason that it’s worth looking a little deeper.
What we know
As far as the effect marijuana has on coronavirus, there have been some actually very legitimate studies done on the matter.
For starters, most of the research has revolved around CBD and not THC. For the uninitiated, CBD is one of several compounds found in cannabis. It has been found to have therapeutic qualities and it doesn’t get you high. Which is a good thing, I guess?
One study, called Cannabinoids and Coronavirus, found that in reference to previous studies “suggest that CBD is a reasonable candidate to be studied in preclinical coronavirus models.
There seems to be some evidence that high CBD strains of cannabis have an anti-inflammatory effect on the lungs. For this reason, some scientists believe they could be useful in treating COVID-19-related respiratory distress.
Another peer-reviewed study published by the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health suggested that “CBD decreased lung inflammation in a murine model of acute lung injury.”
ed note: “Murine” means mice. I looked that up so you don’t have to.
The study goes on to say that CBD, as opposed to THC, “has a high margin of safety and is well tolerated pharmacologically even after treatments of up to 1500 mg/day for two weeks in both animals and humans which suggests its feasibility to reduce SARS-CoV2 induced lung inflammation/pathology and disease severity.”
Marijuana, coronavirus, and mental health
Marijuana has been rumored to make people feel good.
That’s not just anecdotal anymore. Study after study after study keeps providing evidence that cannabinoids help people feel less anxious. One University of Washington study from 2017 stated, emphatically, that “CBD appears to decrease anxiety at all doses that have been tested.”
Why is this important? Scientists have found links between CBD-induced reduction of fear and anxiety in patients and better recovery.
The NLM/NIH study, in reference to a 2016 study, says that “CBD could be used to improve the mental and somatic health of patients suffering from anxiety and emotional stress after recovering from Ebola disease.
If you’re wondering how that’s relevant, the paper goes on to state that, “Like Ebola, patients recovering from COVID-19 may experience various psychological and social stressors that may be triggered by residual chronic inflammation and autoimmune reactions.”
The respiratory symptoms associated with coronavirus get all the attention. However, the psychological and neurological effects of it are some of the scariest. A 2020 study of COVID-19 patients found that “severely ill COVID-19 patients exhibited neurological symptoms like cerebrovascular disease, headache and disturbed consciousness.”
Treating these symptoms will become increasingly important as we begin to see more long-term effects in people who have recovered from SARS-Cov2.
All in all the NLM/NIH study asserts that “randomized clinical trials to test the efficacy of CBD on alleviating anxiety and fear associated with COVID-19 infection and its consequences on people’s physical, social and psychological well-being may be beneficial in the future”
So that’s all good news! Right!?
Hol’ up before you roll up.
What we don’t know
Say this with me: “Marijuana does not cure coronavirus.”
Take a moment with that if you need to.
Now that we’ve established that, it’s important to recognize that we really don’t know anything with certainty. These studies have all been small scale. Rather than establish cannabis as a treatment for SARS-CoV2, they have established the plausibility of cannabis as a treatment. That is a very important distinction.
Nonetheless, these studies also highlight the difficulty of studying cannabis as an effective treatment for anything. Despite the urgent need to develop effective treatments for COVID-19, scientists face huge obstacles to study a promising medicine that is readily available on the low everywhere.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest the plausibility of cannabis as an effective treatment for symptoms of cancer, Chron’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, epilepsy, eating disorders, glaucoma, pain, Alzheimer’s, PTSD, schizophrenia, nausea, and more. Yet, actually conducting the full-scale testing needed to establish solid evidence is a logistical nightmare due to legal issues.
It is impossible to overstate how frustrating this is. These diseases, along with COVID-19, cause death and suffering on a magnitude that is hard to fathom. We have all the means to make real medical progress, but our scientists are hamstrung from taking the necessary steps to do so.
Here’s the long and short of it.
We know that cannabis can have anti-inflammatory effects. Those effects could help mitigate the inflammation caused by coronavirus. Reducing that inflammation could potentially save lives and prevent permanent lung damage.
There is also ample evidence to suggest that cannabis has mental health benefits. These benefits include a reduction in fear and anxiety in patients fighting disease. This could help patients’ recovery and prevent psychological and even neurological damage.
We don’t know to what effect. There have been no large-scale studies so we do not know anything for certain.
But don’t take my word for it. The abstract for the paper In Search of Preventative Strategies: Novel Anti-Inflammatory High-CBD Cannabis Sativa Extracts Modulate ACE2 Expression in COVID-19 Gateway Tissues put it succinctly:
“While our most effective extracts require further large-scale validation, our study is crucial for the future analysis of the effects of medical cannabis on COVID-19. The extracts of our most successful and novel high CBD C. sativa lines, pending further investigation, may become a useful and safe addition to the treatment of COVID-19 as an adjunct therapy.”
Just fucking legalize it already.