The Dental College of Georgia (DCG) and the Medical College of Georgia, recently performed a study which produced results showing that cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, reduces damage in the lungs spurred by cytokine storms caused by coronavirus (COVID-19).
A recent study from the Dental College of Georgia (DCG) (Augusta, Georgia) and the Medical College of Georgia (Augusta, Georgia) produced results showing that cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, reduces damage in the lungs spurred by cytokine storms caused by coronavirus (COVID-19) (1). In an earlier study (2), the researchers illustrated that CBD can reduce inflammation and physical lung damage associated with adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), along with improved oxygen levels. The new study revealed the mechanisms behind these earlier results, exhibiting that CBD normalizes levels of apelin, a peptide known to reduce inflammation. During a COVID-19 infection, levels of the apelin peptide are low. Results of this study have been published in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine (3).
In the authors ARDS model, blood levels of apelin (a crucial piece in regulation, bringing both blood pressure and inflammation down) had dropped close to zero and increased 20 times with CBD. In the instance that blood pressure gets too high, apelin levels rise up to help alleviate the pressure. It is assumed that apelin should also help normalize inflammation in the lungs and other related breathing difficulties linked to ARDS. “Ideally with ARDS it would increase in areas of the lungs where it’s needed to improve blood and oxygen flow to compensate and to protect,” said Dr. Babak Baban, DCG immunologist (1). In their ARDS model, apelin did neither of these. When CBD was administered, apelin increased.
Although with their current study, the authors reiterated that much more is still being studied and there is some animosity in regard to whether CBD or COVID-19 have a direct effect on apelin but they are continuing on their mission to find out. “It is an association; we don’t know yet about causative, but it is a very good indicator of the disease,” Baban said (1). What they have found so far is that the reductions in apelin could potentially be an early biomarker for ARDS and response to treatment efforts.
Based on their earlier study, the authors mentioned that the data supported the idea that the anti-inflammatory function of CBD may assist in reducing cytokine storm and mitigate the effects of exaggerated inflammation (2). Further adding that, “considering all potential regulatory effects of CBD as well as the vast distribution of endocannabinoid system in the body, it is plausible that CBD may be used as a therapeutic candidate in the treatment of various inflammatory conditions including COVID-19 and other virus-induced ARDS.”
Expanding from the researchers’ newest study, the next steps for their research would be to comprise a stronger understanding of the interactions between apelin, CBD, and COVID-19 as well as studying why apelin decreases during COVID-19 infections and how CBD increases those numbers. They will explore how eliminating apelin affects ARDS and if CBD is able to produce the same lung benefit without the peptide. It is assumed that COVID-19 suppresses some sort of reaction that then suppresses apelin and CBD interferes with this process. Nonetheless, the authors doubt the apelin-CBD interaction is the only means by which the compound works in this or other scenarios.
Moving forward with their studies, the authors have refined a safe, relatively inexpensive model of ARDS by giving a synthetic analogue of double-stranded ribonucleic acid (RNA) called POLY (I:C). COVID-19 has double-stranded RNA, while human deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is single-stranded. The researchers’ model propagated a response similar to the virus, along with the extreme lung damage and cytokine storm, reflecting an overactive immune response in the lungs.
Gathering data for these studies, a control group received intranasal saline consecutively for three days while the COVID-19 model received POLY (I:C) intranasally for three days. Then there was a third group, known as the “treatment group,” who received POLY (I:C) and CBD over the same timeframe. The results produced significantly reduced apelin levels in the mice who had developed COVID-19-like symptoms compared to controls, and treatment with CBD normalized the immune response, apelin levels, oxygen levels, swelling, and scarring in the lungs.
CBD has shown itself to be a natural apelin agonist. Apelin levels are consistently measurable in the lungs, which is one of the reasons it proves to be a good biomarker. Aside from CBD, other cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), are proving themselves beneficial in the fight against COVID-19 by decreasing the risk of cytokine storms, ARDS, and mortality (4,5). With future research, cannabis may prove itself useful in strengthening the side of those battling the virus and others fighting to rid the world of COVID-19.