Evidence CBD may reduce cytokine storm and inflammation in COVID-19

A new study has revealed early evidence that CBD may help to reduce cytokine storms and excessive lung inflammation in patients with COVID-19.

Carried out by researchers at the Dental College of Georgia and Medical College of Georgia, the study shows that CBD could help patients with COVID-19 who show signs of respiratory distress to avoid extreme interventions like mechanical ventilation as well as death from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

The researchers say that clinical trials to determine optimal dosage and timing is needed before CBD becomes part of the treatment for COVID-19.


The researchers’ studies have indicated that pure CBD can help the lungs recover from the overwhelming inflammation, or ‘cytokine storm’, caused by the COVID-19 virus, and help to restore healthier oxygen levels in the body.

Dr Babak Baban, immunologist and interim associate dean for research at DCG and corresponding author of the study in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, said: “ARDS is a major killer in severe cases of some respiratory viral infections, including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and we have an urgent need for better intervention and treatment strategies.”

Researchers from the University of Nebraska and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute are also recommending more research into how cannabis-derived CBD might help treat dangerous lung inflammation from the novel coronavirus. They detailed the evidence for how cannabis’ anti-inflammatory powers may help in a peer reviewed article in this month's issue of Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

In particular, researchers are looking at drugs which reduce IL-6 cytokine activity.

That’s where cannabis comes in. The authors explain that several cannabinoids in the cannabis plant have anti-inflammatory properties. In particular, they point to CBD as the most likely candidate for treating COVID-19 related inflammation. CBD has shown serious anti-inflammatory properties in previous studies, it doesn't create the disorienting psychotropic effects associated with cannabis’ most common chemical THC, and it has already been approved by the FDA as safe for children with intractable epilepsy. If successful at reducing inflammation for COVID-19 patients, it could be a safer alternative to other anti-inflammatory options. 

Why do researchers believe CBD can help with COVID-19, specifically? 

For one thing, the authors explain that 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. 

Previous research also supports the idea that CBD can specifically reduce lung inflammation. 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

The authors also note that CBD isn’t the only cannabinoid that shows promise as an anti-inflammatory medicine. THC has also shown powerful anti-inflammatory results, but it’s less well tolerated than CBD

In the article, researchers 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. So, one of the important strategies  that scientists are studying in the fight against COVID-19 is reducing inflammation.

The researchers’ findings have been possible due to the finding of a safe model to duplicate the lung damage caused by ARDS.

The model produced classic symptoms of ARDS, then, CBD significantly downregulated classic indicators of the excess, such as inflammation-promoting cytokines, as it improved oxygen levels in the blood and enabled the lungs to recover from the structural damage.

Lung function in COVID-19

Cytokine storms impact cell communication and can both promote and deter inflammation. In the case of COVID-19, there is excessive production of inflammation-promoting molecules like the interleukins IL-6 and IL-1β, as well as immune cells like neutrophils and monocytes.

In order to test the efficacy of CBD for these storms, the researchers looked at objective measures of lung function in mice like levels of proinflammatory cytokines, oxygen levels in the blood before and after treatment, as well as temperature, an indicator of inflammation. Oxygen levels went up, while temperatures and cytokine levels went down with CBD therapy.

Both clinical symptoms and physical lung changes resulting from ARDS were reversed with CBD treatment, the researchers say. CBD quickly improved the clinical symptoms in the mouse models, then later detailed studies of the lungs showed damage to their structure, like tissue overgrowth, scarring and swelling also had totally or partially resolved.

The researchers next steps include conducting similar studies on other organs impacted by COVID-19 including the gut, heart, and brain.





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