Into the Thick of it: Can Cannabinoids be used to treat COVID-19?

by Robyn Lesch

Weeding through fact and fiction in search of the truth

The therapeutic effects of cannabis have long been known because of the presence of cannabinoids like THC and CBD commonly used to treat various symptoms and side effects related to cancer – but what effect does cannabis have on COVID-19?

In recent years, with more research into its usefulness, cannabis has evolved from that substance your parents warned you about as a “gateway drug” into the shining flame at the end of a dark seemingly endless tunnel of research. As this research into the therapeutic properties of cannabis has developed, so has the mainstream use of cannabis products. These properties are mainly due to the presence of cannabinoids which refers to every chemical substance, regardless of structure or origin, that joins the cannabinoid receptors of the body and brain and that have similar effects to those produced by the Cannabis Sativa (C. Sativa) plant. With its remarkable healing potential, you may be wondering if cannabis could help fight the virus currently taking the world by storm – COVID-19. COVID-19 has resulted in millions of deaths, closed international borders, and has brought global economies to their knees. This contagious respiratory disease can leave one with a fever, feeling fatigued, and struggling to breathe and can very quickly become fatal. So, can cannabis help in the fight against COVID-19?

A January 2021 study published in the journal Aging has found that cannabis may offer some help for patients with COVID-19.

Cannabis and the cytokine storm

One of the main biological events that occur in patients with severe acute respiratory distress caused by COVID-19 is a “cytokine storm.” This is where the body experiences an extreme increase in proinflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are a category of proteins which are involved in the cytokine storm that leads to increased inflammation.

COVID-19 patients tend suffer from lung fibrosis, a dangerous and untreatable condition that leaves lung tissue scarred and making it difficult to breathe. If a substance could stop the cytokine storm, it would be able to suppress inflammation, prevent lung fibrosis, and possibly even put COVID-19 patients in remission.

The Experiment

Researchers used a well-established full thickness human 3D skin artificial EpiDermFTTM tissue model and exposed the tissues to UV in order to induce inflammation. The tissues were then treated with extracts of seven new cannabis cultivars. It was noted that out of seven studied extracts of novel C. sativa cultivars, three were the most effective, causing profound and concerted down-regulation of COX2, TNFα, IL-6, CCL2, and other cytokines and pathways related to inflammation and fibrosis. This data was further confirmed in the WI-38 lung fibroblast cell line model.

The Conclusion

In this study, C. Sativa, a type of cannabis, was found to reduce multiple cytokines and pathways related to inflammation and fibrosis. Two of these cytokines of note that were reduced were TNFα and IL-6, which are thought to be the main targets when trying to block a COVID-19 cytokine storm and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Closing Thoughts

Cannabis has shown great potential in fighting against COVID-19, thanks largely to its anti-inflammatory properties. The study shows that cannabis could significantly improve the condition of COVID-19 patients by reducing a cytokine storm and protecting lung tissue from inflammatory damage. Novel anti-TNFα and anti-IL-6 cannabis extracts can be useful additions to the current anti-inflammatory regimens to treat COVID-19, as well as various rheumatological diseases and conditions.

Although this research is exciting and shows the potential power of cannabis in the fight against COVID-19, always remember to follow your doctor’s advice when managing COVID-19.


Kovalchuk, A., Wang, B., Li, D., Rodriguez-Juarez, R., Ilnytskyy, S., Kovalchuk, I. and Kovalchuk, O., 2021. Fighting the storm: could novel anti-TNFα and anti-IL-6 C. sativa cultivars tame cytokine storm in COVID-19?. Aging, 13(2), pp.1571-1590.

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