As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, you may wonder if medical cannabis has a role to play in alleviating symptoms. Seedsman has already explored the potential use of high CBD cannabis strains to mitigate the impact of the virus. Now, research has turned to the potential utility of cannabis to alleviate some of the symptoms of long COVID.
What is Long COVID?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), long COVID is “a range of symptoms that can last weeks or months after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, or can appear weeks after infection”. In other words, symptoms can remain even after testing negative or even after a positive test in asymptomatic cases. Only half of the patients reported “worsened quality of life” up to 2-3 months after battling COVID.
Symptoms of Long COVID
It’s worth looking at some of the symptoms of long COVID and whether there’s any evidence that these can be treated successfully with cannabis. Indeed, among the CDC’s list of 18 Post-COVID conditions[i], there are a few we know might at least be mitigated with cannabis use – and studies back this up.
Anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Symptoms
Anxiety and PTSS (Post-traumatic stress symptoms) are likely to increase in the wake of the pandemic, and cannabis has proven to be an effective treatment in some cases of anxiety. A study published earlier this year showed that CBD effectively eliminated anxiety, depression, and PTSD and suggested that CBD’s reported anxiolytic properties could be a therapeutic option for treating COVID-19-related anxiety disorders. The study found that CBD targeted the cannabinoid receptors type 1 and 2, mainly in fear memory processing, along with the serotonin 1A receptor, mainly in anxiolysis, and demonstrated CBD’s efficacy in reducing nightmares and depression[ii].
The CDC lists headaches as a symptom of Long COVID, and cannabis has a solid track record as a means of alleviation. Some studies show relief of up to 50% in headache and migraine severity, depending on the method of consumption (concentrate vs. flower) and even the gender of the patient[iii]. Headaches are often allied with joint and muscle pains in patients with Long COVID, and preclinical and human data exist that suggest the reduction in pain pathway signaling and anti-inflammatory effects is sufficient that “the use of cannabis should be taken seriously as a potential treatment of joint pain”[iv].
Cannabis may also play an influential role in the treatment of long COVID-related sleep problems. The sedative effect of THC has been proven helpful in past studies in helping insomnia[v], with the body’s endocannabinoid system playing a role in the neurobiology of sleep. The effects of cannabis on sleep have been so closely studied that we can now choose specific strains to help in this area. Both CBD and THC prove effective in combating sleep disorders, with CBD helpful in improving sleep duration in some cases.
Post Covid Neural Degeneration
Perhaps most interestingly, a study from April 2021 used cannabis to target three human proteins thought to be damaged by COVID proteins and up-regulated in the post-COVID stage. The study found that cannabidiol and cannabivarin can bind to post-COVID symptom proteins in the central nervous system and down-regulate them, a finding which could be of great significance in the treatment of those suffering from long COVID and suggests the potential to combat post-COVID related neurodegeneration[vi].
While cannabis is widely used to treat some of the symptoms that commonly manifest in COVID cases, at present, it is not recommended that you do so. It is strongly advised that anyone considering using medical cannabis in a bid to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with long COVID (and NOT COVID itself) consult their physician beforehand.
Any new and emerging potential treatments are, by definition, experimental, and the ideas for treatments must start somewhere before going on to be proven or disproven. It would be great if cannabis is proven to be helpful in long COVID because medical cannabis is available for those who need it in many parts of the world. But for the time being, there is no endorsement from public health bodies.
[i] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/long-term-effects/index.html[ii] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33614948/ [iii] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31715263/ [iv] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28967368/ [v] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnmol.2020.00125/full [vi] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33810774/