Does Marijuana Prevent COVID?

Greetings all. It is Dr. Lee here with a brief article about a topic that I see murmurs on pretty often- the notion that somehow, some way, smoking marijuana may protect you from getting coronavirus. This topic was covered in an excellent Forbes article and I discussed it with our friends at the Chillinois podcast last week.

To make a long story short, no marijuana smoke is not somehow good for you.

Actual photo of Dr. Do finding out marijuana doesn’t treat COVID-19

This is a great example of how something innocuous with a very solid premise gets a little overhyped and flips into the pseudo-science realm. I think it’s mostly due to our insane level of enthusiasm- I have always loved marijuana related news myself. But we must always respect the facts and there is no science behind this notion!

REAL NEWS

There is exactly one peer-reviewed article published on this topic, it is titled “SARS-CoV2 induced respiratory distress: Can cannabinoids be added to anti-viral therapies to reduce lung inflammation?” You can read it here!

It was published initially in late April digitally and then in print in July. These dates (late April, late July) correspond to spikes in interest measured by internet traffic. The release of the paper digitally in late April resulted in several reddit posts and a spike in internet traffic in early May for terms such as ‘marijuana prevents coronavirus.’ I saw an even bigger resurgence in coverage after the July Forbes article, titled “Cannabis May Reduce Deadly COVID-19 Lung Inflammation: Researchers Explain Why.”

Google search results for ‘marijuana prevents coronavirus’ over time. They correspond to the release of a paper in late April- there’s a spike in May!

Mass Sharing of Forbes article on Reddit in late July

Now I’ve read both the paper and the Forbes article and I think they’re both great! It explains about why CBD could be considered a treatment for COVID-19. To make a long story short, CBD is well known to decrease inflammatory markers which are in turn, also well-known to be involved in the deadly lung inflammation caused by COVID-19.

Coverage like this is important. It helps other physicians see the logical pathways for utilizing marijuana, and demonstrates that we actually DO have some facts about cannabis (especially CBD, which has been thoroughly researched.)

But, to be clear- There are no studies that show marijuana or CBD are effective for treating or preventing COVID, and none planned.

This research paper we are discussing was published in a journal called Brain, Behavior and Immunity. This journal is, as we say in the medical community, legit. It is cited often, has existed for 33 years, and is listed as the #2 journal in the field of neurobehavior.

“Brain, Behavior and Immunity.” This is an image of the journal’s credentials on a journal-reviewing service

The important thing is that this journal is peer reviewed. That means that other statisticians, researchers and editors that sit on the journal’s board analyze each research paper for flaws. There’s typically a back-and-forth between the review board and the authors, and additional analysis is often requested. It’s rare for a paper to be accepted without any changes! That’s part of what makes a research paper research- it’s good enough for multiple trained professionals to put their stamp of approval on it.

FAKE NEWS

I think it’s cool to talk about the possibility, and be excited for the fact that CBD may be a reasonable treatment. I think there are definitely some people out there missing the TLDR of this paper, and jumping from “CBD may treat inflammation, which is involved in COVID” to “marijuana treats COVID.” Look at this dooty right here:

And here’s the “research study” that this article references:

This is not a research article- it’s an abstract! An abstract is what you write *before* you commit to doing the longer research article. In red at the top you can see “This version is not peer-reviewed.” That makes sense, because abstracts usually aren’t!

The abstract itself basically reads like an advertisement for a cultivator! In summary, it states that these people (some unholy fusion of chinese and russian nationals) have produced numerous high CBD strains of marijuana. They then connect it to the notion that CBD reduces inflammation.

I actually at the end of the day also think it’s fine that a group wants well-characterized marijuana with specific CBD levels. Great! That’s where medical marijuana is headed anyways- finding out some specifics about different compounds and ensuring that we can deliver those to patients.

A blog spinning that out into a clickbait title? That kind of sucks.

Stay sciency and look for a source! A peer-reviewed one.

Dr. Lee