Cannabidiol or CBD may help reduce the cytokine storm and excessive lung inflammation that is killing many patients with COVID-19, say researchers.
CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid (chemical compound) found in the ingredients of cannabis (marijuana).
It has many potential therapeutic benefits, including anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-anxiety, and seizure-suppressant properties.
The study, published in the Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, revealed that it could help patients showing signs of respiratory distress avoid extreme interventions like mechanical ventilation as well as death from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
“ARDS is a major killer in severe cases of some respiratory viral infections, including SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) and we have an urgent need for better intervention and treatment strategies,” said study researcher Babak Baban from Augusta University in the US.
“Our laboratory studies indicate pure CBD can help the lungs recover from the overwhelming inflammation, or cytokine storm, caused by the Covid-19 virus, and restore healthier oxygen levels in the body,” the study authors wrote.
For the findings, the research team 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.
According to the researchers, oxygen levels went up, while temperatures and cytokine levels went down with the CBD therapy.
Days later, a more detailed analysis of the lungs, reinforced reduction of key indicators of destructive inflammation, which their model, like the virus, drove way up to including reduced levels of IL-6 and infiltrating neutrophils.
Interleukin 6 (IL-6) is an interleukin that acts as both a pro-inflammatory cytokine and an anti-inflammatory myokine.
In fact, both clinical symptoms and physical lung changes resulting from ARDS were reversed with CBD treatment, the researchers said.
Their model was created with the help of a synthetic analogue of double-stranded RNA called POLY (I:C).
“In humans, our double-stranded DNA contains our genetic information and our single-stranded RNA carries out the instruction of our DNA to make certain proteins,” Baban said
“In the family of coronaviruses, the double-stranded RNA carries the genetic material needed to reproduce the viruses and hijacks the cell machinery of our body to do that,” he added.
Mice received three, once-a-day doses of POLY (I:C) in the nasal passageway.
CBD was given by a shot in the abdomen, the first dose two hours after the second POLY (I:C) treatment. Then every other day for a total of three days in a process that sought to mimic mice getting treatment about the time a human would begin to experience trouble breathing and likely seek medical care.
CBD quickly improved the clinical symptoms. Later detailed studies of the lungs showed damage to their structure, like tissue overgrowth, scarring and swelling also had totally or partially resolved.
Their next steps include doing similar studies on other organs impacted by Covid-19 including the gut, heart and brain.