Cannabis in the Time of Covid and the Coronavirus
By Elana Dussé
Well, here we are; Life as we know it, for just about every human being world-wide, has been utterly shifted and rearranged. We are forced into new routines, new ways of finding connection, perhaps new ways of taking care of ourselves that we never considered before. (Daily zinc lozenges and nasal-douching anyone?)
I think most of us, save for a few savvy epidemiologists, did not see this coming. I never expected a pandemic in my lifetime. Those exotic flu viruses always seemed like something that happened ‘over there’ and didn’t affect us very much. Now, everyone is very much affected and on edge about who in their family or community might be compromised by Covid-19.
People have been flocking to cannabis dispensaries in droves – perhaps you have seen the photos in the media of lines around the block in Amsterdam, Portland, and other places where there is a thriving, legal cannabis market.
We at Healing Essence are also experiencing a higher than normal volume of orders and calls.
Some of this behavior is just due to the ‘stocking up’ we are witnessing in many facets of retail shopping (a nicer term than ‘hoarding’) due to the uncertainty of the time – not knowing how long we will have to stay home, if supply-chains will start being disrupted, etc.
But some of it is purchasing by novel users, who are turning to Cannabis for the obvious ways it can be of support during times of stress – as a sleep-aid and as a way to help ease anxiety but there are also ways that Cannabis can help support the immune system in times of enhanced need like we are experiencing currently.
Our bodies contain an endocannabinoid system (ECS) with a whole network of receptors (CB1 and CB2) that the active constituents in cannabis (called Cannabinoids) very handily fit into in order to catalyze their healing benefits.
Like any other biological receptor, cannabinoid receptors are also found in several areas of the human body – the brain and central nervous system, but also these receptors are found all over the immune system. The immune system is primarily governed by the lymphatic system of certain organs (thymus, spleen, bone marrow, some parts of heart and lungs), as well as the primary lymph nodes.
The endocannabinoid system and the immune system are very closely linked; many studies show that this special biological system plays a significant role in internally balancing our physiological responses (a process collectively known as homeostasis).
Initially it was thought by researchers that Cannabis, via the endocannabinoid receptors, was functioning as an immunosuppressive force, which explains why many people who suffer from auto-immune conditions where the body’s own immune system is in overdrive and thus creates diseases and conditions (fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid arthritis, etc.), were finding symptomatic relief with its use.
How this pertains to Covid-19 and other extremely volatile viruses is that they are often unleashing a torrent of cytokines, or a ‘cytokine storm’ which is a fashionable term right now in light of this pandemic, which are essentially creating a surge of immune cells going haywire – ultimately leading to the gravest expressions of this disease that are causing people to die.
It follows that Cannabis might have something to offer in light of this mechanism of disease but there is not enough science behind it to throw a recommendation behind it. Perhaps more will be revealed in the coming months but in the meantime, as we said before, do NOT attempt to treat this virus with cannabis!
Back to the endocannabinoid system and how it correlates to the immune system; the fact that Cannabinoids have proven to possess immunosuppressive qualities has created speculation that they may not be good for fortifying the immune system. However, recent research indicates they might have a significant immunoregulatory role – suppressing or fortifying the immune system as needed – all in their fulfillment of helping the organism find physiological balance.
We also know that certain cannabinoids play a big role in mitigating inflammation due to their hand-in-glove relationship with CB2 receptors (which outnumber CB1 receptors by a factor of 10-100X).
How does this apply to dealing with Coronavirus?
Well, symptomatically, if you are dealing with symptoms of inflammation (sore throat, muscle aches), cannabis could potentially be helpful but PLEASE NOTE: Using Cannabis is NOT a substitute for conventional medical intervention and should not be used as a treatment protocol, but rather a support for uncomfortable symptoms; moreover, we do NOT recommend any administration by vaping or smoking since this is a disease that often targets the respiratory system and smoking/vaping can make one more susceptible to problems with the lungs.
As far as prevention goes, using a high-CBD product, could be added to an immune-building protocol that includes helpful natural remedies such as Vitamin D, C, Zinc, Elderberry, mycomedicinals (mushroom-based supplements), Astragalus, saline gargles and nasal-irrigation, etc.
Cannabinoids are just one aspect to look at regarding the immune system; Cannabis also has other plant elements, such as flavonoids, which are known to have antioxidant properties (often found in many healthful fruits and vegetables), as well as terpenes and terpenoids. Most terpenes have medicinal qualities (these are the plant essential oils that give cannabis their variance in taste and smell) and many of them have strong anti-viral properties such as:
• Pinene – the most commonly found terpene in nature found in Pine trees, rosemary, and basil amongst other things; It is also a broncho-dilator and can help open up airways in the lungs (again, we are NOT condoning smoking or vaping if you are suffering symptoms of Covid-19)
• Limonene – the second-most commonly found terpene in nature found in citrus peels and to a lesser extent in cloves, oregano; well-documented anti-microbial properties.
• Linalool – found in lavender, coriander, mint, birch bark
There are other terpenes found in essential oils that are proven anti-virals, especially in combination with each other. A very well known combination is: clove, lemon, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus, and rosemary. This is often called ‘Thieves’ blend and the mythical story behind it, however lurid, is that during the time of the Black Plague, thieves would raid the homes of the deceased and be protected from the virus by wearing a cloth with this blend over their mouths and noses.
One of my own personal protective measures during this pandemic, is to put a few drops of Thieves blend in my face mask when I leave the house to run errands. It’s also worth noting that all of these terpenes have many other healthful properties in addition to being antimicrobial and antiviral and in fact, all terpenes in general have myriad healing qualities.
The Known and Unknown
The trajectory of this pandemic is not yet known. There is a lot of speculation that numbers aren’t accurate because testing has not been implemented widely. It probably means many more people have it or have had it without having test results to affirm it. The plus of that equation is that the death rate might be lower than we think. The minus is that there are many more thousands of active carriers out there that can spread this particularly virulent illness. It can only benefit the whole of humanity that so many millions of people find themselves hunkering down and limiting their time in public spaces.
What is known is that there are practices we can all adopt to strengthen our immunity and certainly things we can do to nurture ourselves during such a challenging time. Aside from the different supplements one can take on a daily basis (CBD amongst them) and keeping due diligence with hygienic practices like frequent and adequate hand-washing, we can eat lots of fresh organic food, avoid sugar (which feeds microbes and promotes inflammation), get lots of fresh air and sunshine, daily exercise, deep breathing, adequate sleep (minimum 7-8 hour per night) and engage in practices that will nourish our spirits such as meditation, yoga, chi-gung, chanting, etc.
Humans are resilient and this too shall pass, but in the meantime, keep the faith and as Mr. Fred Rogers so famously said, ‘always look for the helpers – there are always helpers.’ Perhaps you can even be one of them. However you choose to pass your time during this time of the Great Slow-down, may you be well, and never take a single breath for granted.
“Cannabis, CBD & COVID-19” – Martin A. Lee and Tiffany Devitt, from Project CBD – 03/26/20 “How the Endocannabinoid System Function Affects Autoimmune Diseases”
“Antiviral activity of monoterpenes beta-pinene and limonene against herpes simplex virus in vitro” – NIH Endocannabinoids and imune system – NIH
“Cannabis & The Immune System: A Complex Balancing Act” – Mary Biles, from Project CBD – 05/08/19