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Research shows COVID-19 respiratory symptoms can be alleviated with certain types of cannabis

The red (left) is a CBD edible, and the blue (right) is a hybrid CBD and THC edible. Cannabis in edible form can help relieve COVID-19 symptoms. // Photo by Georgia Costa

By Georgia Costa

In November 2020, Erica Wilkins contracted COVID-19, underwent painful symptoms and discovered that the consumption of cannabis helped her symptoms subside and her body heal. 

Wilkins, the assistant manager at Bellingham’s Western Bud Cannabis Co., said hybrid edibles, which contain both CBD and THC, made a great impact on her recovery when she was ill. 

CBD, or Cannabidiol, is a compound found in the resinous flower of cannabis, and can be used for chronic pain, depression and anxiety according to Project CBD. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, on the other hand, is cannabis that can make one “high”, or intoxicated according to Project CBD. 

“Once I figured out that edibles were the route, it really allowed my body to heal,”  Wilkins said. “My body had what it took, but it needed a little help [from the marijuana].” 

When Wilkins had COVID-19, she said she had little navigation on how to alleviate her symptoms. 

“I would call the [Whatcom County] Health Department with questions and they wouldn’t know the answer [on how to alleviate symptoms],”  Wilkins said. “It’s a guessing game for everyone.”

Igor Kovalchuk, a biological sciences researcher and professor at the University of Lethbridge in Canada, has been researching the effects of cannabis on COVID-19 symptoms. He found cannabis can stop the virus from replicating and continuing its cycle once it has infected someone.

Kovalchuk has been researching the effects of cannabis and its ability to alter gene expression and withhold anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Using donated human tissue, they found eight cannabis strains that were effective in the prevention of the COVID-19 entry into host cells, Kovalchuk said.

“Certain cannabis extracts are able to deregulate the reception of a gateway receptor,”  Kovalchuk said. According to Kovalchuk’s research paper, some cannabis sativa — a strain of marijuana — can hinder the entry of COVID-19 into host cells. 

His research also showed that the cannabis strains sativa and CBD were the most effective when combating severe respiratory symptoms.

Wilkins, who consumes cannabis on an everyday basis, said that she had no respiratory symptoms when she contracted COVID-19. She experienced headaches, fever and a loss of sense and smell. 

While Wilkins was sick, she consumed marijuana that had equal amounts of CBD and THC.

“I took 150 milligrams of [cannabis] edibles a day,” Wilkins said. “It would help me get rest, relax and ease the pain.”

Finn McGuinness, who is the co-founder of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy group at Western Washington University, said cannabis can be beneficial for people that use it in moderation. 

McGuinness is an assistant in a research lab that studies cannabis at Western. 

“We dose [mice] with the drug that we are interested in researching, which is usually CBD,” McGuinness said. 

The research lab does behavioral experiments on mice and concludes that cannabis CBD is not harmful towards the rodent models.

Due to marijuana being highly regulated by the FDA, it is difficult to conduct research in the U.S. and have an open dialogue of how it affects people, McGuiness said. 

Alternatively, Canada has federally legalized marijuana, and Kovalchuk’s study, which will conclude in about a month, has been funded by government agencies. 

Kovalchuk's research also found that cannabis can play a role in preventing individuals from getting reinfected with COVID-19.

“While our most effective extracts require further large-scale validation, our study is important for future analyses of the effects of medical cannabis on COVID-19,” according to Kovalchuk’s research paper.

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