Cannabis could be used to help treat life-threatening complications with COVID-19, a growing body of research suggests.
Researchers at the University of South Carolina have performed a trio of studies on mice that found that THC – the chemical that gives cannabis its mind-altering effect – may help prevent a harmful immune response that causes the syndrome of acute respiratory distress (ARDS).
ARDS is one of the most common complications in patients with severe cases of coronavirus. It can be fatal or lead to permanent lung scarring.
The aim of the USC study was to see if THC could block the immune response that leads to the development of ARDS by introducing a toxin into the mice that triggers the response.
In dozens of experiments in all three studies, all of the mice that received THC after the toxin survived, while those that did not receive the chemical died.
The researchers warned that their work was still far from conclusive and stressed that they are not encouraging people to use marijuana to self-medicate against COVID-19.
However, they said preliminary research shows THC’s immense promise as a treatment for severe cases of the virus which has already killed more than 209,000 people in the United States and more than a million worldwide.
Research from the University of South Carolina suggests that THC – the chemical in cannabis that creates a mind-altering effect – could be used to treat complications in patients with COVID-19
Prakash Nagarkatti, co-author of the USC studies, explained the research in an interview with the state in August.
“The underlying mechanism is that your immune system breaks down and starts destroying your lungs and all of your other organs,” Nagarkatti said of ARDS.
“It’s like a car where you put a lot of throttle on but the brakes don’t work. Basically what’s going to happen is your car is going to crash because you can’t stop it. And that’s basically what happens with ARDS.
ARDS is a form of lung failure that occurs when small blood vessels in the lungs start to leak fluid, blocking air from the bloodstream.
It is known to strike patients with COVID-19 when their immune systems are overworked to fight off the virus and start attacking healthy cells.
USC studies have found that THC, which stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, helps suppress the body’s immune response while increasing healthy bacteria in the lungs.
The results were so promising that researchers are now looking to begin human trials to look in more detail at the chemical’s potential effectiveness in fighting the coronavirus.
But Nagarkatti stressed that his team’s research does not in any way recommend that people use marijuana if they think they have coronavirus.
“I just want to make sure that our research isn’t interpreted as marijuana is good for COVID 19,” Nagarkatti said.
“If you start using THC early on, it might make the effect worse because it suppresses the immune system.
Meanwhile, other studies have found evidence for the potential effectiveness of marijuana in treating the virus.
A study by Israeli researchers found that a terpene compound specific to cannabis could also be used to prevent cytokine storm syndrome, an inflammatory response that can lead to fever, fatigue and vomiting in patients with the condition. of COVID-19.
The first results of this study, published in August, found that the terpene was twice as effective at suppressing cytokine storms as dexamethasone, a common corticosteroid treatment for inflammation.
And another study published by Canadian researchers in June found that a specific strain of cannabis could help prevent the virus from entering the body in the first place.
“Similar to other respiratory pathogens, SARS-CoV2 is transmitted by respiratory droplets, with the potential to aerosolize and spread by contact. It utilizes receptor-mediated entry into the human host via the angiotensin-converting enzyme II (ACE2) which is expressed in lung tissue, as well as the oral and nasal mucous membranes, kidneys, testes and the gastrointestinal tract, ”the study says.
“Modulating the levels of ACE2 in these gateway tissues may prove to be a plausible strategy to decrease susceptibility to disease.
The researchers said their strain of cannabis targets these ACE2 receptors, potentially preventing the virus from taking hold in the body.
While each of the aforementioned studies are still in their early stages, together they paint a promising picture of the role of marijuana in the fight against the global pandemic.