There is global panic about the new COVID-19 outbreak. This novel coronavirus is something that humans do not yet have a natural immunity to, and that makes it worrying. There has been some discussion about cannabinoids, and whether CBD could kill the virus or help stop the spread.
Is there any truth to this speculation? If there is not, then what is it that has sparked those claims?
To put things as simply as possible, as of now there is no cure, no treatment, and no available vaccine for COVID-19. Cannabinoids are a different thing to antiviral drugs, though, and what we need to consider is not whether cannabinoids are an effective drug against COVID-19, but whether they can help battle viruses in general, and whether they have value against other things that spread disease.
Cannabinoids are known to be antimicrobial. They can combat bacteria and fungal infection. They can fight MRSA and other ‘superbugs’, and they can help with things like Candida. Their properties have been known about for thousands of years, and modern science supports these claims. They can even help with certain viral infections, so there is some promise there.
Unfortunately, combat does not mean cure. There is evidence that CBD and other cannabinoids can be helpful, but it is not a good idea to make misleading assumptions, or to stretch those claims too far. Cannabinoids are not a magic cure.
True or False: Cannabinoids Kill Coronavirus
Cannabis does not kill coronavirus. Bits of research into coronavirus are being taken out of context and presented in a way that makes CBD sound like a super drug, but the truth is that it is not as effective as people wish it was. Cannbinoids will not cure all ills, and those who claim that it can cure COVID-19 or stop people catching it are preying on those who are scared and potentially vulnerable. Spreading this misinformation could have fatal consequences for those in the most at-risk groups.
Cannabinoids and terpenes are molecules that interact with the G-Coupled master Protein Receptors (GCPR) in the body. There are hundreds of these receptors and they interact to modulate networks that promote cellular homeostasis. Cannabinoids are just one of many phyotchemicals that can interact with this network. Terpenes and other plant-related molecules also have an impact, and they trigger a huge number of functions in our cells. One of the things that is getting attention these days is apoptosis, the way that our bodies kill cancer cells, break down old, dead cells and also capture and break down pathogens (such as viruses) and stop them from doing harm.
There are a huge number of other messenger systems, such as cAMP, AMPK, ATK, tgfB, etc., that control and trigger pathways. Inflammation related pathways are of particular interest to people who are researching cannabis and CBD, because those pathways are something that are related to auto-immune disease, tissue repair, aging, and conditions that cause chronic pain. It would be almost impossible to provide a detailed overview of the cannabinoid and endocannabinoid system and how the body responds to the various pathways that it interacts with, but the easiest thing to say is that cannabinoids can help with inflammation and immune response in powerful and valuable ways.
If that’s true, then what’s the issue with COVID-19?
Well, cannabinoids can, in some cases, help against certain kinds of virus, at least in-vitro. There are studies which have been performed on rodents and monkeys which demonstrate this. Sadly, no studies on humans have been permitted yet, and the tests done on animals were small and narrow in scope. The novel coronavirus is out there right now, causing a lot of people to become ill, and causing numerous deaths. The viruses that were studied were hepatitis C, HIV, and simian immunodeficiency virus, known varieties of influenza, and herpes simplex virus. Cannabinoids were indeed found to help to inhibit the repplication of MHV, a betacoronavirus, so it may well be worth studying its potential impact on COVID-19.
Right now, however, there is not enough information to make a definitive ruling. CBD can help with some, but not all, viruses. The concern, however, is that CBD helps to reduce inflammation. A lot of viruses actually need and cause systemic inflammation to make it easier to transmit themselves from cell to cell. CBD is good at fighting those viruses and can help to slow the transmission throughout the body by reducing inflammation.
That reduction in inflammation is a double-edged sword, however. Cannabinoids can be immunosuppressive. When inflammation is reduced, this reduces the response of the immune system as well, so if the virus does successfully spread then the infection could be worse. That’s why it’s important that there are more studies done on the coronavirus that is spreading right now. Some initial reports have advised against the use of ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug, because it may stop the immune response from being powerful enough, and increase the risk of severe infection. Making a ruling either way because of behavior in a petri dish or testing on a monkey would be premature and risky given the severity of the pandemic. The stakes are too high, and the risks to older and vulnerable members of the population too great, to make it wise to spread information that is not conclusive.
CBD has been found to inhibit cytochrome P450 enzymes. These are found in the liver and are responsible for metabolizing a large percentage (around 60%) of the most common pharmaceutical drugs. A lot of people do not disclose to their doctors that they use cannabis or CBD. If someone is given prescription drugs and continues to use CBD, then they may be putting themselves at risk for some unwanted and potentially dangerous side-effects. CBD is not the only supplement that can interact with drugs. Essential oils and herbal remedies can be problematic too. Patients should disclose their habits to doctors, so that wise treatment decisions can be made.
Cannabis is a powerful and useful plant, and it does have a lot of potential to help people with their wellbeing. However, it may not necessarily be the cure that is required at this time for this crisis. Rather than treating this as a bad thing, we should remember that there are other infections, and that there is a movement towards increased research into cannabis and cannabinoids, and their potential use in medical situations. The United States puts a lot of restrictions on medical research, and on research into cannabinoids in particular, but regulations regarding cannabis are starting to soften and that is good news for those who are interested in progressing modern medicine. New drugs are on the horizon, as are new ways of proactively keeping ourselves well. It’s important that those of us who are interested in furthering knowledge of cannabinoids stick to the facts, and let researchers build conclusive evidence that shows the areas where CBD and other cannabinoids truly are helpful.