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Cannabis May Help Or Hinder Virus Damage — Or Both, Early Studies Find

Some studies have found potential for cannabis to help with cytokines

The COVID-19 pandemic began to make news over six months ago. And it wasn’t long before questions began to arise around cannabis use and the new virus. There were concerns over whether cannabis could increase infection rates, warnings against smokingclaims from brands that it could cure or prevent the illness, and debates over whether dispensaries should be considered “essential.”

While we still don’t have answers to all our questions about cannabis and coronavirus, the past six months have brought more insight through scientific studies. These new studies shed some light on cannabis’ potential, but are still in very early phases — in animal and lab studies — rather than the human clinical trials that would more conclusively answer these questions.

“Only a clinical trial of CBD in COVID-19 patients could provide real answers to this question,” says Dr. Donald Tashkin, a professor of medicine at UCLA who has extensively researched cannabis’ effects on the lungs.

Some studies have found potential for cannabis to help with a dangerous excess of immune system substances called cytokines that trigger inflammation and can lead to death in COVID-19 patients. Others suggest that cannabis users may be more susceptible to catching COVID-19.

While these two lines of research seem at odds, experts say cannabis may have potential to both help and hurt in COVID-19 — depending on when and how it is used.

When it comes to cannabis’ benefits for COVID-19, the majority of the research points to its anti-inflammatory potential and how that might treat a dangerous symptom of the virus called a cytokine storm.

Cytokines are an important part of the body’s natural immune response, producing inflammation that normally helps to fight off infections. But in cases of severe infection, the body can get overwhelmed and release a dangerous amount of cytokines, which can cause too much inflammation. This is a cytokine storm, and it can cause fever, fatigue, swelling, difficulty breathing (also known as ARDS or acute respiratory distress), nausea and death from organ failure.

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