Medicinal cannabis may play a significant role during COVID-19

Medicinal cannabis may play a significant role during COVID-19
© iStock-Darren415

Early studies indicate that medicinal cannabis may have potential in treating the symptoms of COVID-19.

COVID-19 shows no sign of slowing down just yet and vaccines are still several months away, perhaps even a year. The rush to try drugs already on the market has led to dramatic purchases by some governments in a bid to reduce the impact of such an insidious virus.

With so many health professionals looking for a cure – or, failing that, the best preventative strategy aside from masks and social distancing – it is worthwhile taking a step back to see what role medicinal cannabis may play in helping to reduce the severity of symptoms brought about by COVID-19.

How does the coronavirus work?

COVID-19 uses its spiky surface proteins to grab on to receptors found on healthy cells, particularly those found in the lungs. These viral proteins distinctively go through ACE2 receptors; and once they have made their way inside, the coronavirus seizes healthy cells and takes command. Eventually, it kills some of the healthy cells.

The virus impacts the respiratory system by moving down your respiratory tract, which includes your mouth, nose, throat, and lungs. However, because the lower airways have more ACE2 receptors than the rest of the respiratory tract, COVID-19 is more likely to go deeper than other viruses such as the common cold. This is what makes COVID-19 more sinister than average colds or strains of influenza. By entering the lungs, the virus makes it difficult for people to breathe, particularly if it leads to pneumonia.

For most people (about 80%), the symptoms end with a cough and a fever. For those who are not so lucky, the infection can become very severe. About five to eight days after symptoms begin, some people will have shortness of breath which could lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) a few days later.

What can cannabis do?

Cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) have a history of safe use and contain several properties which may be useful in treating certain medical symptoms: CBD has anti-inflammatory properties, can act as a vasorelaxant and has the ability to reduce pain and anxiety. In combination with other cannabinoids and terpenes, as well as necessary clinical intervention, CBD has much potential to treat the symptoms of a virus such as COVID-19. Whole plant cannabis extracts have also been shown to reduce blood coagulation in animal models; it is known that many of the negative systemic effects of COVID-19 appear to be related to altered coagulation, so it is possible that cannabis may be useful in managing these sequelae.

Can medicinal cannabis help to prevent or treat COVID-19?


To date, the range and scope of verifiable research data linking cannabinoids with COVID-19 prevention is highly limited; however, novel approaches to the prevention of COVID-19 include a single study examining the possibility of incorporating CBD into oral solutions, such as mouthwashes and throat gargling liquids, with a view to ‘lowering or modulating ACE2 levels in high-risk tissues’. Studies have found that ACE2 levels change during the progression of COVID-19 and therefore the ability to modulate these levels becomes particularly important as ACE2 has been shown to be essential for lung function in animal models of SARS viruses.

Reducing severity and impact

In analyses of COVID-19 there has been a significant degree of interest in the phenomenon of cytokine storm syndrome, wherein too many cytokine proteins are released in the body: these proteins can attack the lungs and overwhelm the immune system with hyperinflammation. Early evidence has tentatively indicated that CBD and THC may be beneficial in the treatment of patients whose bodies’ inflammatory response has become pathogenic.

Much research in this field has focused on the ability of cannabinoids and terpenes to lower the immune system’s response without suppressing it. Early findings in a study currently being conducted by terpene manufacturer Eybna and cannabis research and development firm CannaSoul Analytics, both from Israel, appear to indicate that the combination of terpenes and cannabinoids used is up to two times more effective than the corticosteroid dexamethasone, when used to reduce inflammation from COVID-19. The study has not yet been peer reviewed.

Another new approach currently being investigated in Israel is the development of a potential cell therapy treatment which uses CBD-loaded exosomes to treat COVID-19 patients. The intention of this technology is to ‘target both central nervous system indications and the COVID-19 coronavirus’. CBD-loaded exosomes hold the potential to provide a highly synergistic effect of anti-inflammatory properties by targeting specific damaged organs, such as infected lung cells.

What can be done to increase research in this field?

Research into the medicinal potential of cannabis is notorious for the complexity of its application processes and the difficulty of sourcing cannabis. In Australia, using CBD only – with no THC content – in research activities requires the academic institution to apply for a special licence to allow it to obtain and store the cannabinoid, because it is still a Schedule 9 drug despite having no psychoactive properties.

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to continue for many months yet; and this may not be the last novel coronavirus we face in our lifetime. Therefore, it is incumbent on all governments to make studying the potential of alternative medicine, such as cannabis, much easier for research institutions and private laboratories to undertake.


1 Coronavirus: what happens when you get infected? WebMD:

2 C. Coetzee, R.-A. Levendal, M. van de Venter, C.L. Frost. Anticoagulant effects of a cannabis extract in an obese rat model. Phytomedicine 14 (2007) 333–337.

3 Kander, T. Coagulation disorder in COVID-19. S2352-3026(20)30217-9.

4 Wang, B.; Kovalchuk, A.; Li, D.; Ilnytskyy, Y.; Kovalchuk, I.; Kovalchuk, O. In search of preventative strategies: novel anti-inflammatory high-CBD Cannabis Sativa extracts modulate ACE2 expression in COVID-19 gateway tissues. Preprints 2020, 2020040315 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202004.0315.v1).

5 Mabou Tagne A, Pacchetti B, Sodergren M, et al. Cannabidiol for viral diseases: hype or hope? Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2020;5:121–131.

6 InnoCan Pharma collaborates with Tel Aviv University to develop a new revolutionary approach to treat the COVID-19 coronavirus with exosomes-loaded CBD.

Elisabetta Faenza
Leafcann Group Pty Ltd
+61 414 447 275

This article is from issue 15 of Health Europa. Click here to get your free subscription today.

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  1. Cannabis Cannabisis proven to help so many things but yet they struggle to pass the law in all states!! That’s the issue with the world today what’s good for one should be good for all or bad for one bad for all!! That’s the problem the world is divided into sections today!! If progress is being made else where with this in the world why not give the ability to all the world to benefit from the good!!! OH WAIT LET ME THINK IT MAY CUT DOWN IN SOME OF THE FUNDS THAT SOME MAY POCKET FROM THIS NOT ALL BUT SOME SOME BEING 1+….

  2. I think cannabis may damage the industry who benefit from covid-19.
    So we will probably not see any plant extracts in our country.

  3. Using nature to heal,used to come with prosecution from church members,who believed it was the work of devils.
    If you had a disease,and was cured by a plant,then of course it was because the evil one resided within the plant tissues.
    Considering that we live in a christian country,the belief in the devil,prevents healing plants from entering the arena.
    The power to Heal and cure belongs to the church and state,that recieves their powers directly from Cod.

  4. I have had liver cancer, and have had 2 opps, l was told at one stage, I that I had six to eight months to live,so far I am cancer clear, and that was three years ago, I take cannabis oil regularly, and don’t tell the doctors I take it. Who cares what anyone says it’s against the law l am still alive and kicking

  5. The UK government have suppressed research with cannabis since 1973 and have been ingaged in a propoganda campaign to vilify it that persists even in the face of of its anticarcinogenic properties being discovered. The reason for this is unknown and makes no logical sense, the mounting evidence of its benifits should be more than enough to effect the change of law necessary for progress and until such time as the UK government concede i will continue to breach the cannabis laws as prolifically as possible, i realise that this admission may cause me trouble but if it gets results I’m willing to make that sacrifice. For the betterment of humanity and the advancement of science it must be done. Because truth is more important than law

  6. Maybe if cannabis wasn’t illegal and could be researched more there would already be treatments developed or closer to being developed. Even here in the US it’s still federally illegal but states making it legal have already increased research and studies. It’s still being stalled for funding, development, and use nationally the way mainstream medications are. It’s already known how amazing cannabis is with treating inflammation, it’s anti-micribial properties, and can even make other medications be more effective. this plant’s got so many different amazing health properties and we are only just scratching the surface. Cannabinoids and terpenes are incredible, and I believe they will hold the key to many medical discoveries. Only if governments can lose the stigma and just accept it

  7. About 2 1/2 years ago I was nearly incapacitated with pain caused by bone to bone contact of several vertebrae in my lower back and in my neck, I started using a cannabis pain cream that I make myself and using tincture that I make, these efforts relieved most of the pain, but when added CBD oil taken orally it eliminated the inflammation and now I am basically pain free as long as I don’t stop using these for more than a few days. I say medical cannabis is an incredible product.

  8. I have been using cannabis since I had my spine fused and wasn’t a successful one either from 15 years now I was taking anti inflammatory but was creating another problem and all medications I use had bad side effects the I stopped all medication and start using the cannabis oil i had no problem or side effects and I can my manage my pain very well and save a lot of money for the nhs because I use the cannabis so I don’t understand why it is illegal never made any sense the thing I can think off that will cure many illnesses and the drugstore will lose like the farma will like such a cure it will make most the medication redundant


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