The devastation wrought by COVID-19 has been global and devastating. Scientists and doctors around the world are racing to find effective treatments and vaccines to combat this novel coronavirus. Fighting a novel virus requires novel approaches, so scientists and doctors have been experimenting with various treatments—essentially throwing treatment options against the wall to see what sticks.
In order to fast track treatments, the FDA loosened restrictions around the use of an antimalarial drug—hydroxychloroquine—based on some anecdotal promise out of South Korea and other countries. However, as more clinical trials have been conducted with hydroxychloroquine, it appears the drug is not an effective treatment for COVID-19 patients, and, in fact, may increase the mortality rate of COVID-19 patients.
In an effort to come up with more treatment strategies against COVID-19, a group of Israeli researchers at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv are exploring the effectiveness of cannabis as a possible treatment for COVID-19 patients. In particular, the researchers are evaluating whether cannabidiol—commonly referred to as CBD—can slow down the inflammatory process caused by the body’s immune response to COVID-19 to help alleviate the symptoms caused by the disease.
CBD should be familiar to readers, as it seemingly can be found just about everywhere these days. CBD is a cannabinoid found naturally in the cannabis plant, but it is not psychoactive; in other words, it doesn’t get you high. Dr. Barak Cohen, the senior anesthesiologist heading up the research stated that “this is a novel approach to treating some of the symptoms, using a component of the cannabis plant that is considered safe and non-addictive.”
In fact, even in the United States where marijuana remains a schedule 1 controlled substance by the federal government, the FDA has approved a pharmaceutical drug with CBD as the main active ingredient. In 2018, the FDA approved the drug Epidiolex—whose primary active ingredient is CBD—to treat two forms of seizure syndromes. There have been numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies that have found that cannabinoids—like CBD—have therapeutic value due to their anti-inflammatory properties. As a result, the proposition of using CBD—an FDA approved pharmaceutical—to treat COVID-19 is about as novel an approach as using another FDA approved pharmaceutical—hydroxychloroquine—to try and combat the virus.
While nobody is claiming cannabis is a “cure-all,” scientists should utilize every tool in their toolkit to try and combat COVID-19. Importantly, this article is not medical advice. You should always consult with your treating physician before taking any substances.
More research still needs to be done on whether cannabis may present an effective treatment option for COVID-19. Unfortunately, there are many challenges that remain in the United States to conduct research with cannabis. Congress, the President, the DEA, and the FDA should act quickly to permit research studies like those being conducted in Israel on the viability of cannabis to treat COVID-19 to proceed during these unprecedented times.
An associate attorney with Grewal Law PLLC in Okemos, Michigan, John Fraser focuses on general litigation, criminal defense, cannabis law, and appellate law. John is also an adjunct professor of law at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School where he teaches a course on Medical Marijuana and the Law.