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New Study Reports Cannabis Consumers Experienced Less Severe Symptoms of COVID-19

As winter nears and new COVID variants emerge, keeping your immune system strong is more important than ever. And according to a recent report, a new study has illustrated a “potentially unexpected connection between cannabis use and health outcomes for COVID patients.” According to the study, those who identified as cannabis users and were diagnosed with COVID-19 reportedly fared better–and battled less severe symptoms–during the duration of their infection.

The peer-reviewed study, entitled “Exploring the Relationship Between Marijuana and COVID-19,” is the most recent in a series of studies suggesting a correlation between cannabis use and less severe COVID-19 symptoms and complications. Its results were presented at an annual medical conference in Hawaii last month, and its authors argued that the correlations discovered were significant enough to have “clinical implications,” while warranting further research into the relationship between cannabis and COVID infection.

Read on to learn more about what recent research has discovered on the relationship between cannabis and COVID-19, and cannabis’ role in reducing the risk of severe infection.

What the Research Says

The new study demonstrated that COVID patients who self-identified as cannabis users experienced lower mortality rates, complications, and severe outcomes than nonconsumers. And the rates of this discrepancy were significant: mortality rates for cannabis users came in at just 2.9%, in contrast to the 13.9% rate among nonusers. Cannabis consumers were also found to have lower rates of severe COVID outcomes such as intubation, acute respiratory distress or failure, and severe sepsis.

According to the researchers who conducted the study, individuals who consumed marijuana had “better outcomes and mortality compared to nonusers”:

The beneficial effect of marijuana use may be attributed to its potential to inhibit viral entry into cells and prevent the release of proinflammatory cytokines, thus mitigating cytokine release syndrome.

The research results, which were presented at the American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST) conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, this past October. Results were gathered through a survey of medical records from over 320,000 individuals, which were collected from the National Inpatient Sample–a government database that tracks hospital traffic and outcomes. The study excluded subjects under the age of 18, as well as subjects with insufficient medical information for the study’s purposes.

Among the patients in this sample, only 2,603 self-identified as cannabis consumers, making up for less than 1% of the total 322,214 patients whose records were analyzed. To even out these results, researchers proceeded to group the patients into two samples “to match marijuana users to non-users 1:1 on age, race, gender, and 17 other comorbidities.”

After analyzing and comparing the data, researchers reported a far lesser incidence of severe or fatal COVID outcomes among cannabis users who were admitted to the hospital for COVID infections:

“On univariate analysis, marijuana users had significantly lower rates of intubation (6.8% vs 12%), acute respiratory distress syndrome (2.1% vs 6%), acute respiratory failure (25% vs 52.9%), and severe sepsis with multiorgan failure (5.8% vs 12%). They also had lower in-hospital cardiac arrest (1.2% vs 2.7%) and mortality (2.9% vs 13.5%).”

Based on this strong correlation, the study’s authors noted the clinical implications of this study, and called for further research investigating cannabis’ potential benefits for complications associated with respiratory and viral diseases:

The significant decrease in mortality and complications warrants further investigation of the association between marijuana use and COVID-19…Our study highlights a topic of future research for larger trials especially considering the widespread use of marijuana.

The authors noted that the cannabis-consuming study population was younger than the non-consumer demographic, and had fewer complicating, comorbid conditions such as obstructive sleep apneaobesity, hypertension, and diabetes. Although interestingly enough, the cannabis-consuming demographic still had higher rates of tobacco use, which is typically considered a risk factor for severe infection.

Past Research on COVID and Cannabis

Florida medical marijuana industry still booming during COVID-19 pandemic.

Though research on cannabis and COVID has been relatively limited, studies that have been conducted have consistently yielded positive results. According to a 2022 study on hospitalized patients, those who self-identified as cannabis consumers had “lower COVID-19 severity” and “significantly better health outcomes.”

Some studies have suggested that cannabis may also reduce the risk of contracting COVID in the first place. According to another 2022 study, researchers found that cannabis consumers had lower chances of contracting COVID-19. And another, separate 2022 study found that common cannabis compounds such as CBD and CBG prevented COVID infection by blocking the virus from entering human cells. “Orally bioavailable and with a long history of safe human use, these cannabinoids…have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2,” and showed promising potential as supplements to enhance COVID immunity in addition to vaccines.

Cannabis’ Medicinal Properties in Defending Against COVID

The correlation between cannabis and better COVID outcomes is likely due to several well-studied medicinal properties associated with cannabis compounds, including THC, CBD, CBG, and many terpenes. These include:

  • Anti-Inflammatory Benefits. Compounds such as CBD, THC, and CBG are known for potent anti-inflammatory benefits, which could be part of the reason that scientists have suggested they are beneficial for use during COVID. Inflammation plays a large part in the immune response to COVID-19, since in severe cases the immune system reacts to COVID by causing excessive inflammation that can lead to more severe symptoms and complications.
  • Immune System Regulation. Compounds such as THC and CBD are also suggested to modulate the immune system, which–as researchers in the 2023 study remarked–is important for managing the excessive release of cytokines that occurs in severe cases of COVID. In these cases, the immune system overreacts to the presence of COVID and floods the body with cytokines that cause excessive inflammation, often leading to serious complications. Cannabis compounds, however, can suppress this “cytokine storm” and prevent such episodes from happening.
  • Symptom Relief. Cannabis compounds can also help those managing regular, non-critical cases of COVID manage and reduce the symptoms associated with infection. Compounds such as THC, CBD, and terpenes are known to reduce pain and nausea, while their anti-inflammatory benefits may help suppress coughing.
  • Cough Suppression. Because cannabis compounds act as anti-inflammatory agents, they may also help to suppress coughing and other respiratory symptoms associated with COVID-19.
  • Digestive Support. Cannabis compounds bind with CB2 receptors that line the intestinal tract, making them helpful for reducing digestive pain and other GI issues brought on by COVID infection.

Using Cannabis with COVID: Products & Delivery Methods

Though cannabis may be helpful for COVID symptom relief, it should not be smoked or vaped while you are infected with COVID 19. Luckily, dispensaries and CBD stores offer a variety of cannabinoids and cannabis products in non-smokeable formats. If you’re under the weather and looking to suppress symptoms with cannabis, opt for products such as capsules, edibles, transdermal patches, oral concentrate syringes, tinctures, and other ingestibles.

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