With Coronavirus still affecting our lives on a daily basis, it’s no wonder researchers are investigating any possible benefits of CBD for COVID-19. And you have to admit, it would be pretty great if CBD swooped in like a knight in shining armour to help us get back to our lives.
The idea sounds too good to be true, but it’s actually not as crazy as you might think. After all, cannabinoids have proven to be promising treatments for other illnesses that are difficult to treat, such as nerve pain, seizures, dementia, and multiple sclerosis.
But what does the research really say about CBD and COVID-19? Read on for the full picture.
Can CBD help treat viruses?
There are a few theories out there for how CBD may be able to help treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the Coronavirus currently sweeping the globe. The first has to do with CBD’s growing reputation as an antiviral. For example, an in vitro study showed that CBD had a direct antiviral effect against hepatitis C and another study showed promise for CBD to fend off Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), which is a cancer that commonly occurs in people with HIV. This is exciting, but it’s important not to jump to any conclusions.
“What does all this mean? I don’t really make much of it,” says Dr. Mikhail Kogan, M.D., the medical director of the George Washington Center for Integrative Medicine. The authors of a review study titled “Cannabidiol for Viral Diseases: Hype or Hope?” would agree with him, explaining that clinical evidence is still lacking in a major way. The authors warn us that anecdotal evidence is not enough to prove that CBD is helpful or even safe in the context of COVID-19 in humans. That said, “they might in some cases provide suggestions for conditions associated with viral infections that may deserve proper assessment in well-designed clinical trials.” In other words, there’s a chance CBD may be beneficial, but we just don’t know yet because the studies haven’t been done.
Can CBD reduce inflammatory cytokines?
Another avenue of research surrounds CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties, which many hope will help prevent or treat the severe lung that occurs in those with more serious cases of COVID-19. There is some research to support this theory; for example, a study from researchers at the University of Georgia showed that CBD may help reduce the production of specific inflammatory signals such as interleukin (IL)-6, IL-1b, and IL-17, which are involved in the cytokine storm that contributes to most COVID-19 deaths. As the researchers wrote, “Among all cannabinoids, cannabidiol (CBD) has demonstrated potent anti-inflammatory effects in a variety of pathological conditions. Therefore, it is logical to explore whether CBD can reduce the cytokine storm…”
“CBD does have anti-inflammatory properties,” says Dr. Kogen, who thinks that the link between COVID-19 and cannabis is definitely worth exploring. “I’m excited to see this research coming out and it’s great because that means there’s funding and it will benefit the world so we can grow and mature and discover.” That said, we have to put it in perspective. For example, he explains that actually, curcuminoids — which are the compounds found in turmeric — have way more anti-inflammatory activity than CBD. So, to say that CBD could help with cytokine storms from COVID-19 in a clinical scenario is “way premature of a statement,” he explains.
As with most things in life, the truth about CBD and COVID-19 falls somewhere in between the “it’s BS” side and the “it’s a miracle cure” side. According to Dr. Kogan, “unfortunately, quite often preliminary studies end up being translated to we get ahead of ourselves.” And while that can actually be a good thing to shift public opinion about CBD and hemp, when it comes to actually treating humans, “we need to see this research for exactly what it is — premature,” he continues.