Despite early assurances that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic would only last a few weeks, politicians, celebrities, and even software developers now urge that the world could be entering a “new normal” from which it may never recover. Thankfully, the novel coronavirus has been far less deadly than anyone initially expected, but the scientific community remains on the lookout for therapies that might reduce the impact of this highly infectious disease.
Do the active compounds in Cannabis sativa reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 infection or mitigate the symptoms of this disease? Should cannabis or hemp products be marketed as therapeutic for the novel coronavirus? Let’s explore the details surrounding COVID-19, cannabis, and CBD.
Cannabis and CBD use has surged during the pandemic
Despite buying more THC-rich cannabis products during each trip to medical or recreational marijuana dispensaries, cannabis consumer behaviors have fluctuated dramatically during the pandemic. One of the largest changes has occurred in individuals who report using THC-rich cannabis for mental health reasons. Among this segment of the cannabis consumer base, THC-rich cannabis rates have increased by at least 91%.
Changes in the CBD market have been even more dramatic. Despite the fact that THC-rich cannabis is often available for delivery in states with medical or recreational marijuana programs, consumers have responded enthusiastically to the ease and safety of buying CBD products online.
According to a Brightfield Group report from June, 47% of CBD consumers have moved their purchases online. More recently, High Yield Insights reported that fully one-fourth of current CBD consumers started using this cannabinoid during the last six months, accounting for 9 million overall consumers.
Why are consumers using so much CBD and THC during the pandemic?
According to the available data, the increase in CBD and THC use during the COVID-19 pandemic has largely been in response to pandemic-related lockdown procedures. With millions losing their jobs or being subjected to draconian lockdown orders, stress and anxiety are on the rise, and both cannabis and hemp are viewed as “natural” or “safe” treatments for mental distress.
The evidence that CBD or THC might act as preventive or symptom-reducing treatments for COVID-19 itself is much more sparse. Regardless, some initial research indicates that certain cannabinoids, especially CBD, might be useful in mitigating the symptoms of COVID-19.
How does COVID-19 work?
The symptoms of COVID-19 generally set in around 5-8 days after infection. Symptoms can range from a minor cough or a fever to severe respiratory distress or even organ failure. In some cases, however, infected patients do not display any symptoms whatsoever.
COVID-19 primarily operates by interacting with the ACE2 receptors in your lungs. Using these receptors as a foothold, the coronavirus infects and ultimately kills previously healthy tissues. Since ACE2 receptors are most concentrated in the lower parts of the lungs, COVID-19 causes deeper damage than most respiratory infections, leading to comorbid conditions such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
Does cannabis help with COVID-19?
There is only limited evidence that THC, the primary component of medical and recreational cannabis, may help with the symptoms of COVID-19. There is no evidence that THC prevents coronavirus infections.
One study from June indicates that THC might help with the symptoms of ARDS, which is often comorbid with COVID-19. This overactive immune response has been shown to be mitigated by THC in the context of staph infections. While COVID-related ARDS is essentially indistinguishable from staph-related ARDS, there is no direct evidence that THC might help with ARDS caused by COVID-19 specifically.
Does CBD help with COVID-19?
The evidence that CBD might help with COVID-19 is much stronger than the evidence that THC might be therapeutic for this purpose. Over the years, a great deal of research has been conducted to determine the potential anti-inflammatory properties of CBD, and in July, a study was published indicating that CBD might help with cytokine storms, a common symptom of severe cases of COVID-19.
Cytokines are stress-inducing proteins that also cause inflammation. A “cytokine storm” is an instance in which incredibly high concentrations of these proteins affect a relatively small area of tissue. In advanced cases of COVID-19, cytokine storms can cause serious, potentially irreversible lung damage.
A variety of studies have been conducted to determine the potential benefits of CBD therapy in patients with active COVID-19 infections. However, these studies have not yet delivered significant results.
Potential drawbacks of cannabis use during the pandemic
There do not appear to be any immediate drawbacks of using CBD during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the evidence that CBD may help with coronavirus is inconclusive, this cannabinoid is non-addictive, and it does not seem to have any significant side effects. In fact, the effects of CBD on anxiety, depression, and stress have been thoroughly researched, and it’s entirely possible that this non-intoxicating cannabinoid could provide consumers with solace as their lives are disrupted by the economic fallout of lockdown policies.
Using THC in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on the other hand, could be harmful due to this cannabinoid’s habit-forming properties. Used responsibly as a recreational drug or medicinal substance, THC poses little risk. When THC is used as a mitigant for stress, anxiety, or other types of mental distress that may have been exacerbated by the pandemic, however, the potential of addiction increases, leading to counterproductive decreases in mental health.
Should CBD or THC be marketed as COVID cures?
The FDA has not designated either CBD or THC as treatments for COVID-19. Given the heightened public sensitivity to anything regarding the novel coronavirus, marketing CBD or THC as COVID treatments is highly discouraged.
It is, however, appropriate to direct your customers to the available scientific evidence regarding the potential usefulness of CBD or THC as treatments for some of the symptoms associated with COVID-19. As long as you do not make any claims regarding the efficacy of either of these substances for coronavirus, it is advisable to expose your customers to relevant scientific data, allowing them to draw their own conclusions.
More research needs to be done
The potential usefulness of cannabinoids, especially CBD, for COVID-19, is promising enough to merit further research. It’s also possible that additional types of Cannabis sativa constituents, such as terpenes and flavonoids, may also prove useful in treating the novel coronavirus.
At present, however, more research needs to be done to affirmatively demonstrate the practical utility of Cannabis sativa for COVID-19. Brands would be advised to position cannabinoids as natural stress-reducing substances that consumers can use to adapt to lifestyle changes induced by lockdown orders, not as substances that treat the actual symptoms of COVID-19.
In the case of THC products, it is important to encourage safe, responsible use habits as the pandemic continues to lead to dramatic lifestyle changes. Brands that stress the importance of using their THC products safely will gain consumer trust that persists long after the pandemic fades into memory.