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Can CBD Reduce Lung Damage Caused By COVID-19?

December 1, 2020
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a compound found in the Cannabis sativa plant, more commonly known as marijuana or hemp. The substance, which doesn’t produce any psychoactive effects, has a variety of legitimate medical uses, and more and more are being discovered. As of late, the compound is being studied for its potential in repairing lung damage caused by COVID-19.


COVID-19 and the cytokine storm


The term “cytokine storm” refers to an abnormal immune system response triggered by a disease or infection. During a cytokine storm, the body’s immune system essentially goes into overdrive and releases a flood of cytokines, proteins that play a role in fighting diseases. This phenomenon causes severe inflammation throughout the body, which often progresses to something called acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS. ARDS can lead to lung damage, organ failure, or even death.

Starting in early 2020, the media began to report on numerous cases of seemingly healthy individuals who suddenly became severely ill with COVID-19. A large percentage of these cases were attributed to the cytokine storm phenomenon.


Now, new research details the role of CBD in fighting ARDS and the cytokine storm caused by the coronavirus.

How CBD can protect against COVID-19


In September 2020, researchers from the Dental College of Georgia and the Medical College of Georgia found that CBD effectively reduced the cytokine storm linked to severe cases of COVID-19. According to their study, CBD was able to repair lung tissue, lower levels of inflammation, and improve oxygen levels in mice. But the scientists weren’t sure how the compound had such a beneficial effect.


Then, in mid-October, the same team conducted yet another study, aiming to identify the exact mechanism behind CBD’s lung-protective ability. They discovered that during a cytokine storm, levels of a peptide called apelin are significantly reduced in the body. Apelin is produced in various organs, including the lungs, and is responsible for lowering blood pressure and inflammation. When CBD treatment was introduced in mice, apelin levels were restored to near-baseline. 


“CBD almost brought it back to a normal level,” said Jack Yu, physician scientist and chief of pediatric plastic surgery at the Medical College of Georgia and co-author of the study.


The researchers still don’t know exactly why ARDS brings down apelin levels and why CBD restores them, but they plan to explore this relationship in future studies.

Should I use CBD to improve my lung health?


A limited number of studies have been done in the past to measure the effects of CBD on lung health. A 2014 study, for example, found that CBD reduced inflammation and improved lung function in mice. But not enough research has been done on CBD to determine its role in fighting lung-related diseases such as COVID-19. However, the October study shows promise, and individuals suffering from severe COVID-19 should certainly consider high-quality CBD as an option.

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