Researchers: It’s time to put CBD and COVID-19 to the test on humans

Ever since the pandemic started, scientists have been hard at work trying to figure out ways to block the SARS-CoV-2 virus from infecting humans as well as lessen the severity of the resulting COVID-19 illness.

On the pharmaceutical side, they’ve come up with vaccines that protect against the coronavirus, as well as certain antiviral drugs and monoclonal antibodies to help the body fight off COVID-19.

However, scientists have been on the hunt for new therapies for people infected by SARS-CoV-2 and emerging variants.

In terms of alternative therapies, the hemp compound CBD (cannabidiol) has been getting a lot of attention. CBD has showed promise in blocking coronavirus entry points, halting viral replication and spread and boosting a lung-protecting peptide in COVID-19 patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome.

But it was a study released early in 2022 that really set the CBD world on fire. The Oregon State University laboratory study found that certain hemp-derived precursors to CBD can block SARS-CoV-2 infection. The compounds do this by interfering with the viral spike protein, which keeps the virus from binding to the ACE2 enzyme. This enzyme is abundant on the outer membrane of endothelial cells in the lungs and other organs that COVID attacks.

Now, further research in animals has reinforced these findings, prompting researchers to call for human clinical trials for CBD to prevent COVID-19…

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Once again, CBD blocks SARS-CoV-2 infection

A research team from the University of Chicago has found evidence that CBD can inhibit infection by SARS-CoV-2 in human cells and in mice.

The study also examined a national sample of medical records of patients taking an FDA-approved version of CBD for epilepsy and found that they tested positive for COVID-19 at lower rates than a similar sample of patients not taking CBD.

Based on this evidence, the researchers say clinical trials should be done to determine whether CBD could eventually be used to prevent COVID-19, or to treat it in the early stages.

“CBD has anti-inflammatory effects, so we thought that maybe it would stop the second phase of COVID infection involving the immune system, the so-called ‘cytokine storm,’” says Dr. Marsha Rosner, a senior author of the study. “Surprisingly, it directly inhibited viral replication in lung cells.”

First, researchers treated human lung cells with a nontoxic dose of CBD for two hours. Then, they exposed them to SARS-CoV-2 and monitored them for both the virus and the viral spike protein. Above a certain concentration, the CBD inhibited the ability of the virus to replicate.

CBD had the same effect in two other types of cells and for three variants of SARS-CoV-2 as well as the original strain.

Unlike in earlier studies, this time CBD didn’t affect the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to enter the cell. Instead, it blocked replication early in the infection cycle, six hours after the virus had already infected the cell.

One completely unexpected result was that high concentrations of CBD almost completely eradicated the expression of viral RNAs, which is what viruses like SARS-CoV-2 use to make more copies of itself.

After the cellular study, the researchers moved on to live mice. They pretreated the mice with CBD for one week before infection with SARS-CoV-2, and found infection was suppressed in the lung and nasal passages of the mice.

Finally, the team analyzed the records of patients taking a medically prescribed oral solution of CBD to treat epilepsy. When comparing them to patients from similar demographic backgrounds who were not taking CBD, significantly fewer patients in the CBD group tested positive for COVID-19.

“These results provide major support for a clinical trial of CBD in humans,” Rosner says. “A clinical trial is necessary to determine whether CBD is really effective at preventing or suppressing SARS-CoV-2 infection, but we think this may have potential as a prophylactic treatment.”

More research is also needed to determine the precise dosing of CBD effective at preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection in humans. And researchers need to identify its safety profile and any potential side effects.

Not any old CBD will do

Another point emphasized by the research team was that only high purity, high concentrations of CBD showed COVID-blocking effects. The same power wasn’t found in closely related cannabinoids like CBDA, CBDV and THC, the psychoactive element of marijuana. In fact, combining CBD with equal amounts of THC actually reduced the efficacy of CBD.

Interestingly, CBDA was one of the cannabinoids examined in the Oregon State study and found to have COVID-blocking properties.

Rosner says the problem with most CBD products available on the market today is their lack of consistent dosage and quality, which would make their ability to block SARS-CoV-2 infection suspect.

“Going to your corner bakery and buying some CBD muffins or gummy bears probably won’t do anything,” she observes. “The commercially available CBD powder we looked at, which was off the shelf and something you could order online, was sometimes surprisingly of high purity but also of inconsistent quality. It is also hard to get into an oral solution that can be absorbed without the special, FDA-approved formulation.”

The bottom line: at this point, you should probably not rush out to buy just any old CBD thinking it’s going to make you invincible to COVID-19. Stick to taking a high-quality CBD supplement to reduce inflammation, ease anxiety and promote better sleep. But before you do, you should talk to your doctor as CBD can interact with certain drugs.

In addition, you should probably stay away from vaping CBD, as it can cause side effects that include potential heart and lung damage.

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Researchers recommend clinical trials for CBD to prevent COVID-19 based on promising animal data — University of Chicago Medicine

Cannabidiol inhibits SARS-CoV-2 replication through induction of the host ER stress and innate immune responses — Scientific Advances

Research shows hemp compounds prevent coronavirus from entering human cells — Medical Xpress

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.