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Can Cannabis Really Help Prevent COVID? What the Latest Clinical Study Suggests

cannabis research

The landscape of health research is always changing, providing new insights that can help us all make better wellness choices. The COVID-19 pandemic was a tragic loss of millions of lives worldwide, and no one could predict how quickly the virus would infect people.

During the COVID-19 health emergency, the global community worked together to find a cure and vaccine for the first worldwide pandemic society had experienced in over two hundred years. The comprehensive review of COVID infection by the medical community also helped discover what preexisting health conditions (and lifestyle habits) had the most impact on the severity of infection.

Thanks to global cooperation, several vaccines were developed that have saved lives and reduced both infection rates and viral replication. The virus is far from gone, however, and the average weekly mortality rate of patients living in the United States is currently over 1,400, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID Data Tracker.

Researchers have a new comprehensive understanding of COVID-19; cannabis compounds may help prevent infection and reduce the severity of the lingering symptoms of the respiratory virus. There is an ongoing discussion of the therapeutic potential of cannabidiolic acid and more in the cannabis plant that shows promise.

The New Study Has Some COVID Researchers Excited

We can thank our friendly Canadian neighbors up north for this research and revelation. The study was conducted by researchers at the Dalhousie University of Nova Scotia. There were no tests or clinical trials, but a comprehensive review of a lot of different studies, specifically, how the endocannabinoid system (ECS) modulation could affect patients in the early infection and post-infection stages of COVID-19.

Marijuana Moment reported the results of the study on January 10, 2024. Since then, people have been discussing and writing about the research findings. As with most medical research studies, the details are a little complicated, but these are the reasons why everyone is pretty excited about it.

covid 19

Cannabis May Raise Resistance to COVID-19 Infection

The best outcome would be to prevent COVID and other respiratory infections from entering human cells. Respiratory viral infections like COVID and SARS-2 can be life-threatening when there is an associated cytokine storm.

Medical cannabis patients know that using medical marijuana can help reduce inflammation. Some strains of cannabis, particularly those with higher levels of cannabidiol, are really effective at doing just that. The coronavirus infection thrives in a high-inflation environment because the cytokine storm reduces immune system functioning.

If a patient has chronic inflammation, cannabis may be helpful in treating symptoms by lowering inflammation after consuming medical marijuana. If someone contracts COVID-19, lowering inflammation could help patients boost immune system functioning and fight off the virus.

Cannabinoids May Help People With Long-COVID Symptoms

People who contracted COVID-19 saw symptoms emerge prior to diagnosis and for 3-6 weeks on average after infection. Then, there were some people who developed long-term COVID symptoms, such as intense chronic fatigue, coughing, chest pain, brain fog, and shortness of breath.

The study suggested that patients who develop long-term symptoms from COVID or other emerging variants may recover faster if using medical cannabis. Research supports a positive effect when using cannabis for depression, pain, decreased appetite, anxiety, insomnia, and more. The study suggests that cannabis could help patients recover faster.

That sounds like good news for patients who use medical cannabis, as it is yet another potential wellness benefit. However, there was a caveat to the research study: smoking still increases the risk of contracting a respiratory virus like COVID-19.

covid vaccination

Smokable Cannabis May Increase the Risk of Contracting COVID

By the end of 2020, the global healthcare community had determined that there were some risk factors that contributed to severe (and sometimes life-threatening) COVID-19 infections. Older adults (aged sixty-five years and up) and individuals who had underlying health conditions that compromised immune system functioning were on the list.

Patients who had chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), other cardiovascular conditions, and diabetes also faced a higher-than-average risk of contracting COVID-19. As obesity can also compromise immune system functioning, patients who were overweight were also considered at a high risk of infection.

One of the biggest surprises to Americans (but not health professionals) was that smokers were contracting COVID-19 at higher rates even if they had no other underlying diagnoses. Many people thought that related only to tobacco products, but scientific literature showed that viral entry for COVID-19 was easier for smokers.

What Happens To Your Body When You Smoke

We want to educate our patients on healthy intake methods. While smokable cannabis remains the most possible intake method for medical marijuana (behind edibles), there are many different choices. Non-smokable cannabis is undisputed as the healthier option.

Many people are educated about the potential harms of smoking tobacco but unaware that smoking cannabis can affect your body in many of the same ways. Particularly the impact that smoking can have on improving viral entry and compromising immune system functioning.

Smoking tobacco or cannabis can increase your risk of contracting a respiratory infection and make infecting human cells easier in the following ways:

Immune System Can Be Weakened

Smoking reduces the strength of the human immune system through a variety of different mechanisms. Human cells absorb more than 5,000 chemicals from one cigarette, and while there are fewer carcinogenic cannabis compounds, there are many similar chemicals absorbed when smoking marijuana. If smokable cannabis is your preferred intake method, it may be doing a number on your immune system as well.

Damage to Lung Tissues

Without lecturing, the only thing we are supposed to be inhaling into our lungs is oxygen. When we inhale other substances, we can do significant damage to our respiratory system. Over time, smokers damage lung tissues that make it much easier for viruses to enter the body through the nose, mouth, and throat.

Inside the respiratory tract are cilia, which look like small hair-like structures. Ever wondered why you have hair on your nose? It is to move mucus and trap harmful pathogens. When you are regularly smoking marijuana or tobacco, you can burn off a large number of cilia, which impairs your body’s ability to move around the ‘sticky stuff’ that traps bacteria and viruses like COVID-19.

medical cannabis

Increased Inflammation and Oxidative Stress

You probably saw a lot of news and research mentioning a cytokine storm. It is a pretty scary name for some bad things that can happen to your body when inflammation gets out of control. When a cytokine storm happens, the immune system becomes hyperactive, essentially, and triggers the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which flood the body.

When all systems are normal in the human body, cytokines are proteins that are a very important part of the immune system. They help regulate inflammation and send messages between cells in the immune system.

A cytokine storm is an overreaction by the immune system, and it typically happens to patients receiving cancer treatments and those that have autoimmune diseases. But it can also be triggered by a viral infection, particularly if the body hasn’t experienced a certain virus before. You see, your immune system has a playbook for viruses it has encountered, and it panics when it has to deal with a new virus.

The COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 viruses are particularly good at binding to ACE 2 receptors (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2). The problem is that smoking (any substance) is known to increase the number of ACE 2 receptors in the respiratory system. That means more open doors for the COVID-19 virus to walk right in.

Smoking also causes increased inflammation and oxidative stress on cells. If a smoker has any infection that causes a cytokine storm in an already high-inflammation environment, the risk of severe and possibly life-threatening infection can occur, requiring hospitalization.

To Smoke Or Not To Smoke? That Is The Question

Of all the intake methods available for medical cannabis, smokables are the least healthy. While smokable cannabis does not have as many toxins as tobacco products, there are many that can cause lung damage, particularly after long-term use.

If you have concerns about your respiratory health, talk to one of our cannabis healthcare providers at DocMJ to explore other products and intake methods, such as tinctures, capsules, and edibles.



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