Disclaimer: Please note the aim of this article is to explore the potential alternative therapies for COVID-19 based on current research. The information should not be used as a substitute for medical advice. If you have any symptoms suggestive of coronavirus infection, you should seek immediate medical attention.
With the first case reported in China in December 2019, coronavirus is now turned into a pandemic. Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has spread to more than 178 countries. As of 19th March 2020, the total number of cases is more than 240,000 and the death toll is 10,000 (1).
Neil Ferguson, Professor at the Imperial College London, has warned that humanity has already lost the battle to COVID-19. “… The number of countries affected shows the battle is really over and now we’re moving towards trying to slow the spread” (2).
Coronavirus family has been around for thousands of years. The first deadly epidemic of this family was noted in 2003 when the SARS-CoV epidemic claimed 800 lives. In 2012, the MERS-CoV epidemic led to 8,000 infections and 800 deaths (3, 4).
COVID-19 is still new for us and there is no known available therapy or vaccine. The earliest we might be able to develop a vaccine is in at least 18 months (5).
Is there is anything else we can try in the meantime?
Is CBD oil a possible treatment for coronavirus?
Let’s see what the research says.
COVID-19 primarily affects the lungs and airways. COVID-19 has spread beyond our wildest imaginations. The reason being its ease of spread.
Person-to-person transfer remains the main mode of transmission. Transmission occurs through respiratory droplets produced during coughing and sneezing and the range of spread is 6 feet.
What’s alarming is the fact that the virus can survive on hard surfaces or objects for several hours to days and can infect the exposed.
Once exposed, you are most likely to develop symptoms within 5 to 6 days. For 80 percent of the exposed, they will develop only a mild flu-like illness. Almost 13.8 percent of the exposed will develop respiratory distress. Finally, 6.1 percent of the affected will develop severe respiratory illness (7).
Fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, generalized body and joint aches, sore throat, and headache are the most common symptoms of the coronavirus infection (7).
This is another factor that makes the diagnosis and treatment of the infection quite tricky as most of the symptoms are quite non-specific.
Understanding the mechanism of a disease or an infection is the key to finding a suitable cure.
Following is how COVID-19 affects your body.
Whenever you get an infection, your body retaliates by sending in its fighter cells. These cells act by either actively killing the intruders (cell-mediated immunity) or by producing chemicals to neutralize the virus (humoral immunity).
Coronavirus paralyzes all aspects of your body’s immunity system.
When it enters the body, it specifically targets the immune cells like macrophages and T-lymphocytes. Inside these cells, this virus triggers a cascade of events that leads to the fragmentation of cell DNA.
DNA degradation is a signal for your body that the cells are abnormal and need to be destroyed. Once the DNA of your immune cells gets degraded, it triggers pathways leading to the self-destruction of these cells- a process called apoptosis (8).
In simple words, COVID-19 infection paralyzes your immune system and makes it ineffective in fighting the infection.
Inflammation is a double-edged sword. When you get an infection, your body responds by producing inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals are meant to destroy the pathogens. On the downside, these chemicals cannot differentiate between the pathogens and normal body cells.
To put in simple terms, excessive inflammation can cause more harm to your body organs than good.
Another important aspect of coronavirus infection is the heightened inflammatory response it generates. Research suggests that coronavirus infection leads to the excessive release of inflammation-causing chemicals called cytokines, chemokines, and interleukins. Some of these include interleukin 6 (IL-6), interferon-γ (IFN-γ), and matrix metalloproteinase (MMP4) and others (9).
Elevated levels of these chemicals lead to accelerated tissue injury and can lead to multi-organ failure.
Increased oxidative stress is another important aspect of coronavirus infection.
Think of oxidative stress as a toxic buildup inside your body cells. High levels of these toxins can destroy your body cells.
Coronavirus initiates the body processes leading to an exaggerated level of oxidative stress. Once your body has got elevated oxidative stress, it can damage the cell DNA and can result in early cell death (called apoptosis) (10).
Coronavirus can affect anyone. However, a certain group of people is more vulnerable to coronavirus infection compared to others.
The National Health Services (NHS) UK has published a list of people who are most vulnerable to get coronavirus infection.
As per NHS UK, you are more likely to catch coronavirus if you belong to any of the following groups (11).
Coronavirus is wreaking havoc and currently, we do not have any proven treatments for this pandemic. While researchers are trying hard to find a cure, the earliest treatment is at least several months away.
Can we use some tested therapies in the meantime?
CBD oil has proven its effectiveness in the management of a variety of complex disorders ranging from pain disorders to inflammatory disorders.
What about coronavirus? Is CBD oil an option?
# 1: CBD Oil Boosts Immune Function
As explained above, the immune cells of the body are the prime target for coronavirus. The virus can affect the function and can lead to the premature death of immune cells such as lymphocytes and macrophages.
CBD acts through a system called the endocannabinoid system. This system naturally interacts with immune components through a series of receptors, namely cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1R) and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2R) (12).
The relation between CBD and immune function is quite complex.
On one extreme, when tested in animal and human models of autoimmune conditions, CBD was found to suppress the action of immune cells and immune function (13).
However, research at the University Of Connecticut School Of Medicine showed that the use of CBD increased the number and immune function of macrophages. Moreover, the research further showed that the use of CBD can potentiate lymphocyte differentiation and function (14).
Simply put, the immune-mediation of CBD is complicated and perhaps it depends on the context of the condition at hand. But, what we know for sure is that CBD oil helps immune cells function properly and hinders any aberrant immune response.
# 2: CBD Has Anti-inflammatory Actions
As mentioned, an increase in the inflammatory response is one of the processes involved in coronavirus pathogenesis.
CBD, through its action on CB1 and CB2 receptors, exerts a multitude of anti-inflammatory actions. CBD prevents the production of Monocyte Chemotactic Protein-2 (MCP-2) chemokines and several other pro-inflammatory cytokines. These include IL-6, IL8, and TNF-α (14).
What’s more interesting is the fact that full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD might have a better anti-inflammatory profile compared to CBD isolates. That’s because broad-spectrum and full-spectrum CBD contains a combination of other chemicals like terpenes.
The CBD terpenes and flavonoids not only act on their own but they can potentiate the beneficial anti-inflammatory effects of CBD as well. This is called the entourage effect (15).
# 3: Antioxidant actions of CBD
CBD has potent anti-oxidant properties. Following are the potential antioxidant actions of CBD (16):
By Reducing Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS): CBD directly interacts with oxidative molecules and turns them into less reactive and less toxic molecules. More importantly, CBD directly inhibits the action of several enzyme systems responsible for generating reactive oxygen molecules. These enzymes include xanthine oxidase, NADPH oxidase, and nitric oxide synthase (NOS).
By Enhancing the Action of Antioxidant Enzymes: Once your body is loaded with ROS, it tries to counter the oxidation molecules through antioxidant enzymes like glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase. CBD induces and promotes the action of these antioxidant enzymes, which in turn, reduces ROS production.
# 4: CBD Might Have Direct Anti-Viral Actions
CBD has direct anti-viral actions as suggested by some research studies.
CBD can reduce hepatitis B and C replication. In one research, CBD was found to reduce hepatitis C replication by as much as 86.4 percent (17).
Although the data is limited, cannabinoids might have help with certain aspects of influenza and herpes infections (18).
COVID-19 pandemic is new for us and there are things about this virus we don’t totally understand.
Does CBD work for coronavirus? We don’t know for sure.
Does CBD have the potential to treat coronavirus? Possibly it does but we can’t tell for sure until we have more research data.
The nutshell is that we don’t have enough research to suggest the use of CBD or to avoid it for coronavirus infection.
The nutshell of the discussion is that there is no direct evidence that CBD could ‘cure’ coronavirus. Simply because this aspect of CBD has not been explored before.
Also, we don’t have enough data to suggest the use of CBD as a treatment for coronavirus.
However, we do know for the fact that CBD has immense anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune-boosting, and some anti-viral actions.
You can use CBD as a means to boost your immune system, lower inflammation levels, and mitigate the risk of oxidative stress- all factors that would make you prone to have coronavirus infection.
The prospect of CBD for treating coronavirus needs to be researched in detail and explored more in the future.
At any rate, if you have any symptoms suggesting coronavirus infection, you should always seek medical attention. You should avoid self-medicating and should always use things after the advice of a qualified medical professional.