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Emerging Evidence Shows Promise for CBD as a COVID-19 Treatment

Researchers in Georgia have discovered that CBD might be effective in reducing deadly inflammation in the lungs and other organs of severe Coronavirus patients.

Proponents of cannabis as medicine have just won another enormous victory in the fight to legitimize the plant and its many cannabinoid compounds.

This latest COVID-related CBD development — fresh from the laboratories at the Medical College of Georgia and Dental College of Georgia – contributes to the mounting evidence that the medical community has only just begun to explore cannabis’ many undiscovered healthcare applications. The recent study out of Georgia provides definitive, clinically significant proof of CBD’s potential effectiveness for preventing the deadly “cytokine storm” response seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients with severe cases.

There remains no universally effective treatment, cure or vaccine for COVID-19, leaving health officials scrambling for clinical answers to a virus that has so far proven extremely difficult to understand – much less treat. 

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Due to CBD’s impressive anti-inflammatory effects in vivo, medical researchers had previously suspected that the mighty cannabinoid could serve a critical role in mitigating the effects of the emergent coronavirus. Until now, though, the clinical evidence was bare.

Let’s break down what cytokine storms are, why they pose an enormous threat to at-risk populations, and what solutions CBD offers affected patients.

What Are Cytokine Storms and Why Are They Dangerous?

Cytokine storms are as nasty as they sound.

The immune system mechanisms at play that precipitate a cytokine storm response are complex, but the essential driving force is inflammation.

Inflammation serves as the primary immune defender against unrecognized pathogens such as COVID-19 when they are first encountered in the world. In moderation, inflammation can be immensely beneficial for containing and eliminating such threats. As the saying goes, though, too much of anything is a bad thing.

Cytokine storm

What is essentially occurring in the buildup to a cytokine storm is that, as part of the natural immune response, inflammation accumulates in the lungs or other organs and wreak havoc via uncontrolled inflammation.

“Cytokines” are members of the innate immune system that come in one of two varieties:  pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory.

In healthy immune responses, the two types of cytokines work together in a balancing act to ramp up inflammation when necessary and tamp it down once threats are eliminated.  In cytokine storms, clinicians observe that the cytokine balance is disrupted and pro-inflammatory cytokines “run wild.”

As a result of uncontrolled inflammation, the immune system inadvertently damages the body’s own tissue, ultimately leading to organ failure and death.  

Successful therapeutic interventions to combat cytokine storms, therefore, require modulating the immune system to restore a proper inflammatory response.

Enter CBD, a breakthrough new potential answer to the central inflammation question.

CBD Exerts Potent Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Following the boom in clinical CBD research within the last twenty years, the cannabinoid’s potent anti-inflammatory effects in vivo are by now well documented.

As such, researchers have become increasingly interested in the use of CBD as a novel anti-inflammatory therapeutic in cases where conventional treatments fail or patients require alternative approaches.

The four identified mechanisms through which CBD ratchets down the inflammatory response are:

  • Inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death) of immune cells. Although apoptosis may sound negative on the surface, the process is a normal and healthy component of immune system recycling and can actually be a benefit to immune function when too great a concentration of immune cells triggers an overreaction to a pathogen (as seen in cytokine storms).
  • Inhibiting immune cell proliferation.
  • T-cell suppression.
  • Cytokine suppression.*

*Take a look at this chart below that demonstrates the negative correlation between therapeutic CBD use and cytokine levels in the blood.

Source:  National Institutes of Health

The study found that the serum (blood) levels of two key inflammatory cytokines — TNF-α and IL-6 – dropped off dramatically in patients who received CBD supplementations.

Although this study concerned asthma patients specifically, there is no reason why the reduction in serum cytokine concentrations caused by CBD could not also benefit individuals, such as COVID-19 patients, who experience novel infections – exactly what the new research out of Georgia indicates.

What New Georgia Research Says About CBD for Treating COVID-19

New research out of Augusta’s Medical College of Georgia and Dental College of Georgia has shed new light on the potential application of CBD for treating COVID-19 patients at risk of developing fatal cytokine storms.

The impetus of the study was the researchers’ abiding interest in discovering alternative treatments for patients ravaged by overactive immune responses to the coronavirus. Specifically, they were interested in ways to prevent Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), the often-fatal end-product of extreme cytokine storm immune responses.

Dental College of Georgia
Dental College of Georgia

As Dr Babak Baban, interim dean for research at the Dental College of Georgia and author of the study, put it, “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.”

Among the subjects in the study, the researchers found that CBD helped “the lungs recover from the overwhelming inflammation, or ‘cytokine storm’, caused by the COVID-19 virus, and [helped] to restore healthier oxygen levels in the body.”

The experiment was conducted by artificially triggering the same type of ARDS response observed in extreme COVID-19 cases. Once severe symptoms set in, the research team then administered CBD in therapeutic dosages to test how the subjects’ lungs would respond.

As the primary method of measurement, the researchers gauged the concentration of inflammatory cytokines in the subjects’ blood and compared it to control groups untreated with CBD.

The results were remarkable and hopeful. As theorized by the designers of the experiment, the CBD introduced to the subjects dramatically reduced cytokine blood levels. Blood oxygen levels (critical markers of survivability among COVID-19 patients) increased in the subjects receiving CBD, their temperatures stabilized, and their lungs recovered from the immune onslaught more quickly and fully.

CBD’s Status as a Recognized Therapeutic Remains in Limbo

The fight to legitimize CBD as medicine has been hard-fought since the early days of its breakthrough use as an alternative anti-seizure medication for epilepsy and similar disorders.

A number of barriers to the widespread embrace of cannabis and its many compounds persist – pharmaceutical resistance and cannabis’ enduring social stigma chief among them. 

By forcing the academic and medical establishment to grapple with the solid clinical evidence of the viability of CBD as a therapeutic intervention for struggling COVID-19 patients represents one small but significant step in achieving mainstream recognition of the compound’s exceptional potential to promote health and healing.

The COVID-19 Cytokine Storm Explained

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