The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has posed a question that’s on the forefront of cannabis users’ minds: “Can cannabis prevent or cure the coronavirus?”
We’ve received this question so frequently in recent weeks that we felt it was time to provide an answer. Can cannabis prevent or cure coronavirus? Or could it actually make it worse?
Technically speaking, researchers can’t just open a lab and start testing cannabinoids against the coronavirus. You’ll recall that cannabis remains a federally illegal substance, after all. Only the end of federal prohibition can tell us what role cannabis plays against this infectious disease. But there’s still so much we do know about cannabis that can help us answer this question.
Let’s take a look at what we’ve learned to better understand the role cannabis plays against COVID-19.
Can Cannabis Prevent the Coronavirus?
Little evidence suggests cannabis can prevent a coronavirus infection.
In fact, far more evidence suggests the contrary. According to Dr. Donald Tashkin, a UCLA professor who has extensively studied the effects of cannabis on the lungs, evidence suggests smoking cannabis can temporarily increase the symptoms of bronchitis such as lung inflammation, excessive coughing, and increased phlegm production. These effects are far less serious than one might encounter when smoking tobacco, but Tashkin has reported to the Los Angeles Times that “smoking anything increases risk.”
This is because COVID-19 interacts with your body via the lungs. Nestled along the surface of your upper and lower respiratory tract is a protein referred to as the ACE2 receptor. In order for the coronavirus to enter your body, it needs to make its way into your lungs and locate an ACE2 receptor as a means of injecting its genetic material into cells so that it can replicate and spread.
Preliminary research suggests that lungs exposed to smoke “accumulate abnormally large numbers of ACE2 receptors,” reports LiveScience. This “may leave the organ vulnerable to damage inflicted by the coronavirus.”
Still, if you use cannabis for medicinal purposes, and other consumption methods prove ineffective, don’t panic. “Some people need to smoke or vape it and they shouldn’t feel bad about it,” says Dr. Peter Grinspoon, an instructor at Harvard Medical School. It may be best to stop smoking if you can, but only if doing so doesn’t interfere with your other medical needs.
Cannabis Is Immunosuppressive
It comes as no surprise that cannabis is immunosuppressive in nature. Cancer patients that use weed to negate the effects of chemotherapy choose to do so because cannabis reduces pain and inflammation. Others use cannabis to reduce the symptoms of nausea, wasting syndromes, seizures, and more.
These immunosuppressive properties may be helpful when treating some conditions that exploit our body’s inflammation properties, but that can’t be said for all conditions. Unfortunately, we just don’t know if suppressing the immune system is good or bad in the fight against coronavirus. More research is needed to determine how helpful or harmful these immune effects would be when treating COVID-19.
Understanding Coronavirus Comorbidities
Comorbidity is the presence of two or more diseases in a person at any given time. For instance, those suffering from Parkinson’s disease may also suffer from anxiety and depression at the very same time. While we don’t know how cannabis affects coronavirus directly, we do know that it can reduce the comorbidities of the virus.
For instance, the CDC has warned that those suffering from severe obesity or diabetes are at a greater risk for severe illness should they contract COVID-19. Cannabis, on the other hand, has illustrated an ability to treat diabetes patients by increasing the sensitivity of their cells to insulin. Other evidence has shown that cannabis consumers are often slimmer when compared to adults that don’t use cannabis.
While we can’t say that cannabis is directly helpful against coronavirus, it does have the ability to impact many of the virus’ comorbidities. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you should go out and start smoking weed, but you can rest a little easier if you already do.
Protecting Your Cells From Low Oxygen Damage
COVID-19 has proved to be so deadly because of the oxidative stress it puts on the body. When your body can’t get enough oxygen, organs like the heart and brain will suffer over time.
This may explain why those visiting the ER with THC in their system can survive heart issues such as atrial fibrillation and myocardial infarction, two common complications that occur as a result of the coronavirus.
Despite these positive tests, cannabis researchers are still reluctant to assume cannabis will help. “People have to hold their horses and not extrapolate and not make claims that are unsubstantiated,” says Dr. Grinspoon. “People who are anti-cannabis really want to think that cannabis harms you when you have coronavirus, and people who are pro-cannabis really want to think that cannabis helps you when you have coronavirus. But the fact is, it’s a new virus and there isn’t any data either way for cannabis.”
We Simply Need More Research
While some evidence suggests cannabis may play a role in the treatment of coronavirus, more research is required to determine what exactly that role is. Cannabinoids may provide anti-inflammatory properties, oxidative stress relief, insulin resistance, and more, but federal prohibition has limited the potential for cannabis research here in the US. Until scientists and researchers can study the effects of cannabis that’s available on the open market, it will be difficult to determine how cannabis impacts the coronavirus and future pandemics.