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The development of a COVID-19 vaccine is continuing at an accelerated pace, and so far only one drug has been officially approved by the FDA to treat the virus: remdesivir (under the brand name Veklury from Gilead Sciences.) As research into additional treatments continues, many are asking whether or not medical cannabis can play a role in COVID-19 protocols.

So far, the short answer is yes. Although the early research doesn’t point to cannabis as a cure, it does indicate that cannabis may help ease the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. In particular, cannabinoids such as CBD (cannabidol) are known to have anti-inflammatory properties as well as the ability to lower pain and anxiety. Two studies now taking place in Israel show this promise.

The first study, being conducted by terpene manufacturer Eybna and research firm CannaSoul Analytics, looks at the ability of terpenes and cannabinoids working together to reduce the immune system’s inflammatory response without suppressing it. Preliminary findings (the study has not yet been peer reviewed) show this combination to be up to two times more effective than the commonly-prescribed corticosteroid dexamethasone. 

The second study, by InnoCan Pharma in conjunction with Tel Aviv University, looks at developing a revolutionary approach to treating COVID-19 by using CBD-loaded exosomes — the small particles created when stem cells are multiplied. It is hoped this cell therapy treatment will be able to target specific damaged organs in COVID-19 patients, such as infected lung cells.

Closer to home, researchers at Augusta University’s Dental College of Georgia and Medical College of Georgia reported this summer on CBD’s ability to improve oxygen levels and reduce inflammation as well as physical lung damage in a laboratory model of ARDS, or adult respiratory distress syndrome. ARDS can be lethal in COVID-19 patients, and treatment often produces permanent lung scarring. CBD increased levels of the peptide apelin as much as 20 times, greatly improving lung function — and the next steps for researchers are to understand this mechanism and move on to human trials.

A related study at the University of South Carolina showed that THC might also be effective at preventing this immune response that causes ARDS. They think it could cause a significant increase in healthy lung bacteria. This study also will have to move on to human trials.

Findings such as these show the need for continued research into the beneficial effects of cannabis on this worldwide pandemic. Unfortunately, there are hurdles in many countries to obtain permission to conduct cannabis research and to source the product for laboratory use. The sooner restrictions on universities, research institutions and private laboratories can be eased, the greater the likelihood that cannabis will become a vital part of COVID-19 therapies.