Study Summary: Cannabinoids for COVID-19

Updated: Jul 10

A February 2021 study entitled "The Immunopathology of COVID-19 and the Cannabis Paradigm" that was published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology explored the potential therapeutic role of cannabis in the prevention or treatment of the COVID-19 viral illness.


"Here, we explore the anti-inflammatory function of cannabinoids in relation to inflammatory events that happen during severe COVID-19 disease, and how cannabinoids might help to prevent the progression from mild to severe disease," wrote the study's authors.

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The study noted that "most of the COVID-19 symptoms are related to hyperinflammation." Because many chemical components of marijuana have been shown to be effective at dealing with systemic inflammation and its symptoms (via a wide range of peer-reviewed research studies), the scientists hypothesized that certain cannabinoids and terpenes may result in a positive outcome for patients and consumers.


"Most of the COVID-19 symptoms are related to hyperinflammation." The scientists hypothesized that certain cannabinoids and terpenes may result in a positive outcome for patients and consumers.

"[The current environment] makes it necessary to develop novel anti-inflammatory therapies. Recently, the therapeutic potential of phytocannabinoids, the unique active compounds of the cannabis plant, has been discovered in the area of immunology," explained the study.


Cannabinoids Defined

The study defined cannabis-derived cannabinoids as "a group of [chemical] compounds [with] biological functions [that] are conveyed by their interactions with the endocannabinoid system in humans."


Like many research studies, the report provided a brief history of the use of cannabis by humans. Below, the study describes the genome of cannabis and how scientists struggle to categorize the controversial herb.

"Cannabis comprises various strains termed Cannabis sativa, Cannabis ruderalis, and Cannabis indica. It is not sure if they are three different species or whether ruderalis and indica are subspecies of C. sativa. During the history of the mankind, the cannabis plant was grown for varied uses, [including]...production of fabric, for food, for recreational purposes, and for medicinal use. Medically useful substances are produced in the trichomes that sit on the leaves and buds of the plant."


The study explained how the cannabis plant produces "more than 550 different components, of which about 150 cannabinoids...are predominantly expressed in the cannabis plant [and] termed cannabinoids."

A Pharmacopoeia of Molecules

The study explained how the cannabis plant produces "more than 550 different components, of which about 150 cannabinoids...are predominantly expressed in the cannabis plant [and] termed cannabinoids."


"The other 400 components are terpenes and phenolic compounds," reported the study. "The main pharmacologically active compounds are the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinols (THC), Δ8-THC and Δ9-THC, and other non-psychoactive cannabinoids like cannabinol (CBN), cannabidiol (CBD), or cannabigerol (CBG), to name only a few," wrote the scientists, adding "Non-cannabinoids are flavonoids, terpenes, and fatty acids."

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The study explained how the purpose of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is to produce and bind with its own cannabinoids, 2-AG and anandamide, while also binding with phytocannabinoids from hemp and cannabis via the same microscopic cellular receptors it employs for endocannabinoids, CB1, CB2—including a slew of GPR-type (G-protein-coupled) receptors not yet officially categorized as part of the ECS (including GPR18 and GPR55).


Additional Benefits

The detailed study listed some of the benefits of cannabinoids and terpenes other than COVID-19, including "a positive impact of cannabidiol [CBD] on chronic pain in adult patients, as an antiemetic in chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and in improving spasticity in multiple sclerosis, as well as in sleep improvement and [efficacy] for fibromyalgia [patients].


The detailed study listed some of the benefits of cannabinoids and terpenes other than COVID-19, including "a positive impact of cannabidiol [CBD] on chronic pain in adult patients.

Conclusions

The study explained that research revealing the potential medicinal benefits of cannabis for COVID-19 were revealed by studies conducted years before the current pandemic. "First indications that cannabis has the potential to influence the disease course of COVID-19 were already published three years before the outbreak."

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A review of the research literature to date revealed "A plethora of pre-clinical studies" showing that cannabinoids of certain cannabis cultivars ("strains") "can have an impact on the inflammatory response in mouse models of lung or inflammatory diseases, thus halting their progression."


The study emphasized the need for the collection of "extensive evidence from pre-clinical and clinical trials" that are "urgently needed."

The study emphasized the need for the collection of "extensive evidence from pre-clinical and clinical trials" that are "urgently needed."


"Many more precisely targeted clinical studies [involving humans] need to be performed in order to evaluate the benefit/risk ratio for cannabinoids. All together, these concerns emphasize the need of deeper science-based data that will allow the appropriate use of cannabis for medicinal purposes," concluded the study's authors.


View the original study.


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