By Salina May
New research from the Medical College of Georgia shows that a compound found in cannabis called cannabidiol, or CBD, can help reduce lung damage and inflammation from COVID-19 viral infections. The virus can attack the lungs causing acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), resulting in the now infamous “cytokine storm”, an exaggerated immune response that results in an attack on the body instead of a protective immune response.
This study was done with mice, with CBD being administered through “intraperitoneal injection,” which is injection into the abdominal cavity.
The researchers found that levels of a peptide (a sort of short protein) called apelin are dramatically reduced in the lungs and in blood circulation from a COVID-19 infection, which can cause problems as apelin reduces inflammation in the lungs and improves breathing in ARDS. The blood levels of apelin were found to drop to near zero from covid-related ARDS, while CBD treatment increased the apelin levels 20 times. This protection from inflammation is important to reduce severe outcomes from COVID-19.
The researchers found that CBD can reverse the reduction of apelin during ARDS, bringing the apelin back up to near-normal levels, according to researcher Dr. Jack Yu, physician scientist and chief of pediatric plastic surgery at the Georgia-based college.
This means that CBD can help the body to have a proper immune response, improving blood and oxygen flow, bringing down the inflammation in the lungs, and helping to reduce the severity of the respiratory problems associated with COVID-19. The CBD treatment in the study normalized the immune response and apelin levels, and also improved oxygen levels and reduced both swelling and scarring in lung tissue due to ARDS.
The researchers say that they don’t expect all of the benefits of CBD on COVID-19 infections come only from this increase in apelin levels, but that this peptide is clearly important in covid infections. There is still much to be learned about exactly how CBD produces these beneficial effects in ARDS, and next steps will look at the nature of the interactions between CBD, apelin, and the covid virus, and why apelin levels go down during an infection, and why CBD brings it back up. The researchers say that it is likely that COVID-19 “suppresses something that suppresses apelin and CBD interferes”, but they also expect that CBD also works in other ways that benefit the body in a COVID-19 infection.
CBD is the second most prevalent active compound in cannabis and is also derived from hemp plants. Unlike the compound THC found in cannabis, CBD does not produce a psychoactive “high”, and according to the World Health Organization, “to date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.” Future studies on CBD treatment for COVID-19 related ARDS are expected to determine how CBD can help and dosages that may work best for this type of treatment.
Future pre-clinical and clinical studies are planned to research the results further.