Cannabis - the magical grass
Cannabis - the magical grass
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, researchers have started to look for solutions in an unlikely place – the cannabis plant.
Is conventional medication still the best choice?
Can cannabis cure COVID-19?
We should first understand how plants, our body, and the virus works.
Dr. Siddappa Byrareddy from the University of Nebraska and the Dr. Mahesh Mohan from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute are recommending more research into how cannabis-derived CBD might help treat dangerous lung inflammation from the novel coronavirus. They explain that recent reports have suggested that acute infection is associated with a cytokine superstorm, which contributes to the symptoms of fever, cough, muscle pain. These extreme instances of inflammation can lead to severe pneumonia which clog up the lungs, make breathing difficult or impossible.
Israeli researchers from The Medical Cannabis Research and Innovation Center at Haifa’s Rambam Health Care Campus are leading research that suggests the effects of medical cannabis could be used as a method for treating some symptoms of seriously ill COVID-19 patients.
Current research indicates that when the body’s immune system recognizes a new and threatening invader, a large number of white blood cells are activated and release inflammatory “communication molecules” called cytokines, which activate even more white blood cells and regulate the inflammation process. This storm of cytokines which can result in the out-of-control inflammatory response which worsens the illness and can even lead to death.
Cannabinoids - naturally occurring compounds that can be generated from both Cannabis and Human
Active components in cannabis activate an internal system in the body called the Endocannabinoid System. Since the body naturally produces and utilizes substances similar in structure to the active components of cannabis, it may also respond broadly to the cannabis plant itself.
The first nation that applies Cannabinoid therapy for COVID-19
Dr. Louria-Hayon suggests the effects of medical cannabis could be used as a method for treating some symptoms of seriously ill COVID-19 patients, the focus currently is just how much cannabis influences the inflammation process.
As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, clinical trials at Rambam hospital for the use of medical marijuana in treating and preventing the rapid, life-threatening inflammation in patients with COVID-19 have already begun. For the first time in Israel, a laboratory experiment has been undertaken to explore the effect of various types of cannabinoids on the white blood cells of COVID-19 patients.
“Based on our experimental data, we hypothesize that cannabis may affect the cytokine storm which occurs during COVID-19 disease. Our goal is to apply cannabis treatment to downregulate the inflammation storm before the patients develop severe lung inflammation,” Dr. Louria-Hayon said. The center aims to treat the inflammatory “storm” as it develops and before the patient’s condition deteriorates and a ventilator is needed.
Rambam Health Care Campus Haifa
Can CBD prevent virus infection?
Medical researchers from the University Of University of Lethbridge in Canada say the plant-based CBD may provide resistance to SARS-CoV-2.
The Canadian researchers say that by modulating ACE2 levels in those "gateways" to the human host, it may be possible to lower the susceptibility, or vulnerability, to the SARS-COV-2 coronavirus. Hence it could basically reduce the risk of infection. The research claims that some strains of cannabis reduce the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus' ability to enter the lungs, where it takes hold, reproduces and spreads.
Why do researchers believe CBD can help with COVID-19, specifically?
While negative side effects are minimal with CBD, researchers point out that CBD may have a side benefit for patients with the disease – reduced anxiety. CBD has shown serious promise for the management of anxiety, and may help reduce these challenging levels of stress.
In a recent study, Tocilizumab was able to clear out patients’ lungs, and resulted in recovery for 90% of the patients treated. Unfortunately, it also produced serious negative side effects like inflammation of the pancreas and hypertriglyceridemia (a risk factor for coronary artery disease). This has led researchers to continue the search for anti-inflammatory strategies – preferably ones that aren’t as harsh on these already critically ill patients.
Previous research has shown that CBD can reduce a number of pro-inflammatory cytokines including IL-6, the one reduced by other drugs being studied for COVID-19. CBD was also shown to reduce interleukin (IL)-2, IL-1α and β, interferon gamma, inducible protein-10, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1, macrophage inflammatory protein-1α, and tumor necrosis factor-α – all of which are associated with the pathology of severe cases of COVID-19. In addition to reducing these pro-inflammatory cytokines, CBD has also been shown to increase the production of interferons, a type of signaling protein that activates immune cells and prevents viruses from replicating.
In an animal study on asthma, CBD was able to reduce production of proinflammatory cytokine production, actually reducing airway inflammation. In the same study CBD also reduced pulmonary fibrosis – a condition where lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred, thickening lung tissue and making breathing more difficult. This is important, because COVID-19 can also leave patients with serious pulmonary fibrosis.
Is CBD the only phytocannabinoid that can treat COVID-19 symptoms?
CBD isn’t the only cannabinoid that shows promise as an anti-inflammatory medicine, other cannabis compounds like THC and terpenes (aroma and flavour compound coming from plants) also play an important role in bringing down inflammation.
Inflammation is also not a simple process with approximately 20 different cells participating in inflammation progression and different pathogens may induce different components of the inflammation. Researchers have focused on the strains of the cannabis sativa plant that are high in CBD, but not all strains that showed anti-inflammatory properties can treat COVID-19.
While this doesn’t suggest cannabis should be considered a cure or treatment of COVID-19 on it’s own, it does suggest that it may have potential to help bring down inflammation and reduce anxiety in those suffering from the disease. But until more studies are done, this is just a well-supported theory. Direct experimentation is needed to bring us real answers.
美國內布拉斯加州大學藥理學與實驗神經科學系副教授 Siddappa Byrareddy 及德州生物醫學研究中心教授 Mahesh Mohan 指，病例報告顯示，COVID-19 的急性感染與細胞因子風暴 (cytokine storm) 相關，即是身體出現過度免疫反應，會導致發燒、咳嗽及肌肉痛等症狀，嚴重者甚至會導致嚴重肺炎，繼而阻塞肺部，令呼吸困難甚至無法呼吸。
位於加拿大艾伯塔省的萊斯布里奇大學醫學研究人員說，透過調節體內的 ACE-2（冠狀病毒進入身體的通道 ）可以從根本上減少冠狀病毒的感染風險。
美國的研究人員認為，根據該病毒病理及過往的研究數據，均顯示大麻二酚可用於治療 COVID-19 ，同時指出大麻二酚本身也有抗焦慮作用，可減少病人患病的心理壓力。
現時不少研究均顯示，病毒觸發的過度免疫反應有機會是致病甚至是致死的原兇，因此醫學界嘗試以抑制此類細胞的藥物作治療，例如安挺樂 (Tocilizumab)，然而該藥同時會引起胰臟發炎及高甘油三酯血症 (hypertriglyceridemia) 等嚴重副作用。
在目前治療COVID-19的藥物主要藥理運作是針對減少細胞激素IL-6（一種會促進炎症的細胞因子）。而大麻二酚也似乎可抑制這類細胞因子，包括與 COVID-19 相關的細胞激素 IL-6 、IL-2 、IL-1α 、IL-1β、干擾素-γ 等多種細胞因子。除了減少這些促炎細胞因子外，CBD還可以增加干擾素的產生，而干擾素是一種激活免疫細胞並阻止病毒複製的信號蛋白。
另外在一項關於哮喘的動物研究中，發現CBD 可減少可引致發炎的細胞因子，減少呼吸系統的炎症，同時減少在 COVID-19 患者身上常見的肺纖維化 (pulmonary fibrosis) 風險，肺纖維化是肺組織受損和疤痕形成的狀況，使肺組織增厚並使呼吸更加困難。
Cover Photo from : IG @ obeliskfarm