There is no evidence that CBD can stave off or treat COVID-19 — and for people who take certain medications, it may even cause harm.
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“That’s a risky roll of the dice,” says one longtime cannabis researcher about taking CBD as protection from COVID-19.
Perhaps it wasn’t surprising that ads touting cannabidiol (CBD) would spring up during the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, the cannabis derivative has been touted in recent years for its antiviral properties.
But this doesn’t mean it’s effective against the novel coronavirus. And for people who take certain medications, it may not be safe.
A Look at the Evidence (0r Lack Thereof)
CBD might one day prove to be helpful for people who have or who are recovering from a viral illness, but the current data don’t support its use with the coronavirus, says Jahan Marcu, PhD, a longtime cannabis researcher in New York City and editor in chief of the American Journal of Endocannibinoid Medicine.
“If you’re using CBD as a shield to protect yourself against the coronavirus, that’s a risky roll of the dice right now,” he says.
Those who study CBD have been alarmed by some of the claims being made by advertisers. The board of the International Association on Cannabinoid Medicines (IACM) put out a statement in March asking members not to amplify “false information that is circulating on the Internet.”ADVERTISINGSunil K. Aggarwal, MD, PhD, an integrative medicine physician who uses cannabis in his Seattle practice, notes that there is no evidence that CBD protects against coronavirus infection or effectively treats it, the same message the IACM is working to convey.
What Exactly Is CBD?
Cannabis plants, which include both marijuana and hemp varieties, contain hundreds of different compounds. The most famous is tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC, which is the chemical that makes you high. Another is CBD, which does not create a high.
Hemp plants contain negligible amounts of THC, a key reason why companies have been able to sell a broad array of hemp products. CBD has been especially popular in recent years, with an explosion of offerings featuring the substance in everything from pills and tinctures to coffees and skin cream.
Many CBD products are sold online, with a growing number also available from dispensaries in states that have legalized medical or recreational cannabis.
RELATED: CBD: A User’s Guide
There’s Very Little Human Research
Despite CBD’s widespread availability, hardly any research has been conducted in human subjects. This is because laws governing the legality of cannabis make these investigations difficult.
The most widely researched use for CBD is for epilepsy, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving the first CBD-based drug, Epidiolex, in 2018 to treat rare forms of the disease. The drug’s manufacturer, GW Research, tested it in hundreds of patients before getting approval.
For most other uses, much of the research has involved laboratory animals and test tubes. It is here that CBD has shown promising antiviral properties, as well as antibacterial and other effects, Dr. Marcu says.
CBD may also relieve anxiety and help you sleep, according to a tiny study of 15 people published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology back in 1981. Researchers found that patients with insomnia taking 160 milligrams of CBD before bed (but not lower doses) slept longer than those taking a placebo.
But as the IACM notes, no human studies have been published regarding CBD’s effects on the coronavirus.
CBD Is Not Side-Effect Free
Marketers touting CBD often point to a 2017 statement by the World Health Organization (WHO) that says in its pure state, “cannabidiol does not appear to have abuse potential or cause harm.”
But they rarely mention the rest of the WHO statement — that the organization “does not recommend cannabidiol for medical use.”
The chemical is not side-effect free, with people taking CBD reporting problems including diarrhea, fatigue, and vomiting, according to a 2019 review in Current Neuropharmacology.
Potential Drug Interactions
For people with chronic health conditions, another issue is the possibility that CBD might interact negatively with certain medications.
A report published on the U.S. National Library of Medicine site warns people on the seizure medications clobazam (Onfi and Sympazan) and valproic acid (Depakene) not to take CBD, since it can increase these drugs’ side effects or boost the risk of liver injury.
For many other medicines, CBD can impact how much of the drug circulates in the body. “CBD targets the same metabolizing enzymes in the liver as many common medications,” Marcu says. “If you’re on other medicines, you must proceed with caution.”Speak with your physician before taking CBD if you’re taking a drug such as a benzodiazepinesedative, the pain medicine celecoxib (Celebrex), the gastrointestinal (GI) drug omeprazole (Prilosec, Omesec), the heart pill nifedipine (Procardia), or many others.
If You Use CBD, Buy Only Quality Products
If you have consulted with your physician and decide you still want to use CBD, it’s crucial that you buy it from a reputable manufacturer, experts say. You’ll want a company that tests each batch of product and lists the batch number on the bottle itself, so you can link it to corresponding test results on the company’s website or via a phone call to customer service.
One giveaway a product isn’t up to snuff: It’s too cheap. Good CBD is costly, with a bottle of tincture typically selling for $60 or more.
As for how much to take, your guess is as good as any. There haven’t been studies on the various dosages, so nobody really knows, Dr. Aggarwal says.
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