Coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV2) was first reported in Wuhan, China in late 2019. The virus has since emerged as a global pandemic, spreading across the world to infect tens of millions people with new cases arising everyday. While efforts to contain the disease have been successful in some countries like New Zealand, health experts believe the development of an effective vaccine will be the best remedy to halt the continued spread of the virus.

As we wait for a vaccine, medical researchers are investigating ways to alleviate the symptoms of severe cases of COVID-19. Here we’ll explore the recent evidence suggesting that cannabidiol or CBD may have a role to play in treating COVID-19.

COVID-19: Symptoms and Pathogenesis

Those infected with COVID-19 can display a spectrum of symptoms, from completely asymptomatic to requiring hospitalization and intensive care. The most common symptoms at the onset of COVID-19 illness are:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Mucus production
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

More serious clinical symptoms include:

ARDS is the leading cause of death in severe cases of COVID-19 and is primarily caused by an excessive inflammatory response termed the cytokine storm This includes the overproduction of proinflammatory cytokines as well as the infiltration of immune cells such as neutrophils and monocytes into the lung tissue. Even those who survive severe cases of COVID-19 may still suffer from lasting tissue damage and scarring in the lungs.

The Case for CBD

Researchers are investigating different therapeutics to help treat the symptoms of severe COVID-19 cases and CBD has emerged as a potential candidate. Previously, researchers have shown that CBD has anti-inflammatory effects in pre-clinical models of several chronic inflammatory diseases.

In a mouse model of lung injury, CBD reduced lung inflammation by lowering proinflammatory cytokine production in immune cells and suppressing excessive immune responses. Another study investigating a mouse model of asthma also showed that CBD reduced proinflammatory cytokine production as well as airway inflammation and tissue scarring.

A more recent study attempted to mimic the effects of ARDS in mice and found CBD once again downregulated the level of proinflammatory cytokines while also alleviating the clinical symptoms of ARDS. Additionally, CBD has already been through the FDA approval process for use in children with severe forms of epilepsy, an indication of CBD’s favorable safety profile.

The available data suggests that CBD may play a protective role in those with severe cases of COVID-19 that have advanced to ARDS, but evidence in human patients is lacking. Future studies should focus on assessing the effect of CBD as an adjunct therapy for treating COVID-19.