Using cannabis as a human coronavirus treatment may make symptoms worse.
Cannabis is great for a lot of things. For example, many physical conditions see symptom abatement with cannabinoid treatment. Additionally, there is adequate, and in some cases, strong, scientific evidence to support consuming cannabis for therapeutic relief. Unfortunately, fighting off influenza-like viruses is not one of them. It’s important to note that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that cannabis is an effective human coronavirus treatment. On the contrary, researchers from Michigan State University provide recent evidence to demonstrate potentially harmful side effects of consuming cannabis while infected with an influenza-like virus.
And based on the similarities between the novel coronavirus, named COVID-19, and influenza, some researchers are now warning those infected with COVID-19 to avoid cannabis consumption for the duration of the illness.
How Similar are COVID-19 and Influenza?
Firstly, there are some disease similarities between the two viruses. According to the World Health Organization, these are similar in symptom presentation, namely: fevers and coughing. Additionally, COVID-19 and influenza both cause respiratory disease. Accordingly, this can come with a range of symptoms – from very mild to severe, and in some cases, may even result in death. Similarly, COVID-19 and influenza have transmission methods that are comparable. Specifically, these viruses are both spread through contact, droplets, and fomites. The latter are materials, such as doorknobs, light switches, and clothing, that are likely to transmit viral infection.
Certainly these traits, in combination with preclinical evidence suggesting worse outcomes for cannabis-consuming influenza patients, are worrying health professionals like Dr. Barry Mennen.
Does THC Worsen Respiratory Symptoms?
Dr. Mennen, who utilizes medical cannabis in his primary care practice and is an advisor with Aurelius Data, says, “Although no clinical trials exist showing poorer outcomes in patients infected with COVID-19 who use therapeutic or recreational cannabis, the data from pre-human studies urge caution for these individuals in the face of the current viral epidemic.”
The evidence Dr. Mennen is referring to was first published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology in 2008. In this study, researchers administered THC to mice, in the form of resin. Additionally, this was diluted in corn oil to a dose of seventy-five mg/kg of bodyweight. This transmission method was subsequently used to infect the mice with the influenza virus.
While it has been suggested that THC has bronchodilator effects on airways restricted by inflammatory disease, namely asthma or similarly, cystic fibrosis, there is, unfortunately, no evidence of comparable success for acute respiratory conditions.
The results to which Dr. Mennen speaks show, however, that for mice given THC, there was an increase in viral load and an inhibition of the immune system.
This is comparable to an earlier study performed by the same authors. In this earlier study, THC-treated mice showed an increased expression of hemagglutinin, which is an antigenic glycoprotein responsible for binding the virus to an infected cell. Basically, this means that THC may help the virus bind to the cell, subsequently increasing viral load on the body and potentially worsening symptoms. Additionally, lymphocyte and macrophage recruitment into the lungs decreased in the presence of THC. Unfortunately, this evidence suggests that cannabis consumers infected with COVID-19 should consider avoiding THC.
But, what about medical cannabis patients that need THC?
Medical Cannabis Consumers With COVID-19 Should Consult With Their Physician
Fortunately, most medical cannabis patients who consume THC-rich cannabis are not on cannabis to keep them alive. THC is, however, often prescribed for the management of a debilitating symptoms, like chronic pain or insomnia. This makes it a vital functional medicine. So, concerned medical cannabis-COVID-19 patients should consult their doctor and generally consider alternative treatment options if they are in a high-risk demographic.
Julie Armstrong, CEO of Aurelius Data, says that, “Medical Cannabis patients … are going to be affected by COVID-19 just like the rest of the population and they need to be aware of the interactions their cannabis medications could have on this disease.”
Although it is important to note that this is only a precaution, at this time, there is no human clinical evidence to suggest that THC worsens COVID-19 symptoms. There are only lab and rodent studies. And, fortunately, CBD consumers do not need to worry about CBD worsening influenza or COVID-19 symptoms. They should not, however, expect it to help either.
What About CBD?
In a recent review published in NeuroImmunoModulation (2017), the researchers found that cannabinoid treatment had mostly negative outcomes on various viral infections. Whereas CBD interacts with the Endocannabinoid System to help modulate the immune system in a healthy individual, there is little information on what that looks like for the viral disease state. However, one study, which aimed to treat a strain of the herpes virus with CBD, found success in the combination. Significantly, researchers determined that CBD induced apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in endothelial cells infected with the herpes virus.
There are many other examples of CBD’s immunomodulatory properties. From treating rheumatoid arthritis to boosting cancer patient’s immune system, CBD appears to show promise as an anti-inflammatory medication and maybe even as an immune modulator. However, how CBD would work with the immune system to fight off viruses like influenza, or COVID-19 is completely unknown. Consequently, the research into CBD as an antiviral is a research black hole.
Although there is no evidence suggesting potential harm, like with the previously mentioned THC study, relying on CBD for treatment of COVID-19 would be irresponsible. Importantly, it is not a recognized human coronavirus treatment.
The Best Available Human Coronavirus Treatment
Accordingly, the best treatment for preventing and treating COVID-19 is to listen to trusted medical and scientific professionals. While technology and information sharing platforms, like social media, make sharing COVID-19 related information easy, unfortunately, this ease also makes it easy for misinformation to spread.
Cannabis is not going to protect you from getting COVID-19. It is also not going to help treat the virus if you contract it. The World Health Organization suggests practicing social distancing, washing your hands, and engaging in respiratory hygiene. Importantly, if you develop a fever, a cough, combined with difficulty breathing, seek medical care immediately.