Cannabis & COVID-19: The Facts

While COVID-19 bares the label “19”, 2020 is the year that every conscious person will never forget – the year the world changed, the year of the pandemic, the “new normal”. Wearing facemasks, constant sanitizing, social distancing and self-isolation became common household practices. Lockdown and quarantine went from science fiction to common reality and the modern world grew acquainted to death by infectious disease on an unprecedented global scale.
Feb 02, 2021
Health, News

If you’re reading this, chances are good that you currently use medical cannabis or are at least considering it. In fact, whether you use MCDSA’s advocated products or you consume marijuana recreationally, it is having a therapeutic effect on both your body and mind. But what does the consumption of this healing plant, in any form, mean during the global COVID-19 pandemic? As it turns out, your chosen consumption method as well as the timing of use could mean an awful lot. Not to mention the huge collective mental health burden brought on by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

MCDSA has put together a four-part pandemic special series around the topic of ’Cannabis & COVID-19’. Prepare to get your neural circuits firing with some fascinating facts and big picture thinking.

Here’s what you can look forward to:

  1. Part I: The Facts (currently reading)
  2. Part II: Research Studies
  3. Part III: The Mental Health Pandemic
  4. Part IV: The Big Picture

This series is long overdue, but not without reason. Our focus at MCDSA is always evidence-based health-promotion. While there has been promise surrounding medical cannabis use for COVID-19 for several months, we chose to wait for the science to evolve a bit in order to not mislead any of our valued clients. We fully respect the sensitive nature of what we’re all dealing with. People are dying on a global scale and we’ve been conscious to not push unfounded recommendations during such an extremely vulnerable time.

So without further ado, we present to you the facts.

What are the current figures?

At the time of writing, confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Africa are approaching the 1.5-milion mark and near 50-thousand people have died as a result of the virus. Daily cases have dropped well below the 10,000 mark, following the festive season upsurge, and daily deaths are now in the low hundreds. Over 2-million people have died out of more than 100-million confirmed cases worldwide. Sadly, these figures are no longer shocking to anyone who has paid attention to the recent state of affairs, in SA and globally.

What are SARS-CoV-2 & COVID-19?

The name “Covid” has become as much a part of everyday colloquial language as facemasks have become part of our daily attire. It is important to note that the disease is caused by a virus, both of which have separate names. Initially, the disease was termed “2019-nCoV” or 2019 novel coronavirus, with the first official cases reported in December, 2019. It was soon thereafter named COVID-19, short for “corona virus disease 19”.

The full official name of the virus is SARS-CoV-2, which stands for “severe acute respiratory syndrome – coronavirus 2”. It is from a family of viruses known as Coronaviruses, of which there have been several in the past, most notably the original SARS outbreak in 2003 and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in 2012.

Where did the virus come from?

There are rumours that the virus is manmade, but official reports state that it most likely slipped across to a human from a bat (potentially via a pangolin intermediary) in a live food market in Wuhan City, in the People’s Republic of China.

How does it enter the body?

SARS-CoV-2 uses receptor-mediated entry into a host body. Specifically, it is known to use angiotensin-converting enzyme II (ACE2) receptors, which are found in human oral, nasal and lung tissue, as well as the kidneys, testes and gastrointestinal tract. In other words, the virus is most likely “caught” by breathing it in or it entering the mouth.

Can medical cannabis cure COVID-19?

In reality, cures are generally very illusive. Scientists worldwide are searching for treatments but there is at present no known cure for COVID-19. Persons who develop serious symptoms will be hospitalised and receive oxygen supplementation, while those who become critically ill may receive ventilation.

As you will see in our next research-focused article, medical cannabis has shown tremendous potential to aid treatment on several levels. Specific Cannabis sativa strains, rich in cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may be particularly effective at blunting the overactive inflammatory immune response (cytokine storm), which can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and death.

Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid currently used in this regard. Remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir and interferon drugs have questionable effects, while ivermectin remains controversial. Some say it’s the solution, while it’s also been said that the dose required to kill the virus may be toxic to humans.

Medical cannabis flower with COVID-19 viral spike protein

Just how deadly is it?

Using very rough and round figures, about 8 in 10 persons who contract the virus will have little-to-mild symptoms and won’t need hospital treatment. About 15% of people will become seriously ill and need oxygen supplementation, while 5% will need intensive care and around 2 in 100 will die. Complications leading to death include acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), respiratory failure, blood clots, sepsis and septic shock, multiple organ failure and severe inflammatory syndromes.

Why is it so dangerous?

The fact that we have a global pandemic is hardly surprising. What is surprising is the scale of it, after scares in recent history were safely contained on a much, much smaller scale. One of the most concerning aspects of the disease is its contagiousness. It is believed to spread through contact or in the air, via the respiratory droplets of an already infected person. It may also have the ability stay alive on surfaces for several days. Additionally, infected persons are able to transmit the virus while they are still asymptomatic – before showing any symptoms.

SARS-CoV-2 is a “slippery” virus, meaning it has the ability to mutate or change form. This means that someone can become infected for a second time, via a mutated strain, of which there are currently thousands in circulation.

What are the most common symptoms?

Symptoms can appear around 2-14 days after exposure to the virus and range from mild to severe in intensity. According to WHO, commonly reported symptoms include:

Fever or chills, fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, loss of smell or taste, headache, body or muscle aches, sinus congestion, runny nose, diarrhoea, skin rashes, conjunctivitis (red eyes), nausea and vomiting.

More severe symptoms include:

Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, confusion, pain or pressure in the chest and a temperature above 38°C.

Less common severe symptoms include:

Confusion, depression, irritability, anxiety, sleep disorders, loss of consciousness, seizures and severe but rare neurological complications like stroke, nerve damage, delirium and brain inflammation.

Who is at risk of severe COVID-19?

Those who have comorbid (coexisting) conditions seem to be at the greatest risk of severe illness or even death. The elderly are a high-risk population group, not least because most illness counts tend to rise with age. In other words, they are more likely to have coexisting diseases or health conditions.

Persons with diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease (including high blood pressure), as well as those who are immune-compromised or suffer from respiratory disease, are at greater risk of more severe illness. Obesity, smoking, cancer, pregnancy and kidney disease are also high-risk comorbidities. The list goes on but factors like age, immune-deficiencies and coexisting health conditions appear to increase the likelihood of more severe illness and unfavourable outcomes.

When to get tested?

If you’re experiencing symptoms or have come into contact with a known COVID-19 patient, it’s best to get tested and self-isolate to avoid further transmitting the virus, while you await the results. You can also test for antibodies, which will tell you if you’ve already had the virus, whether you showed symptoms or not.

Do supplements help?

It’s a good idea to speak to your doctor and test your levels of certain compounds through a local pathology lab to ensure no deficiencies. A white blood cell count will tell you if your immune system is healthy and not deficient. It’s summer – get plenty of sunshine and keep those natural vitamin D levels up.

Diet is always the first step for vitamins and minerals. If you start to feel any symptoms, a vitamin C supplement can help to support your body and immune system. Zinc is supportive in many ways, while also preventing viral replication. If you’re going to supplement large doses of zinc, make sure you don’t become copper deficient.

Vaccines to the rescue?

Vaccines are the where all the hype is, at the moment. The hope is that mass vaccinations will stop the spread and save lives. The World Health Organization-backed Covax program was estimated to only cover 10% of the population this year.

Viral vector vaccines: South Africa first started using the AstraZeneca-Oxford viral vector vaccine, from the Serum Institute of India, which has a 70% success rate over two doses, as it is stable around 2-6°C (fridge temperatures). Its use, however, was quickly halted, after it was after questions arose about its effectiveness against the dominant 501Y.V2 coronavirus variant. The focus will now switch to a single-shot Johnson & Johnson alternative, which has shown to be 66-85% effective against severe disease after 28-days.

Messenger RNA vaccines: The Pfizer (95% success rate after 7-days) and Moderna (94.1% effective after 14-days) vaccines need storage at -70°C and -20°C, respectively. Both of these mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines are currently less practical for the SA context but may be used in future. These have been associated with rare anaphylaxis – severe allergic reactions.

Both viral vector and mRNA vaccines cause cells to produce the spike protein seen in SARS-CoV2 infections, in order for our immune systems to develop antibodies without having to risk the complications of COVID-19. They are, however, not without risk or controversy. Comparisons over vaccine effectiveness are like comparing apples to oranges, due to variations in the dosage, timing and location (new viral variants) as well as measures of the studies performed.

Will it ever end?

That is the big question. Simply put, the future of this deadly disease is uncertain. Those of us who survive the pandemic and future generations may one day speak of “Covid” in the same breath as the flu or common cold. In fact, while the flu is caused by the human influenza virus, coronaviruses cause about 15% of common colds. Also, while the human body is a natural host to influenza B virus, influenza A can cause flu epidemics and even pandemics as well.

Is there any good news?

The good news is that, if you follow all the recommended safety guidelines stringently, you may be lucky enough to not contract the virus in the first place. Sanitize and wash (scrub thoroughly) hands frequently, wear a mask, practise social distancing, keep rooms well-ventilated, stay away from crowds and avoid any unnecessary or non-essential contact with people. If you do catch it and are otherwise healthy, there’s a good chance (roughly 82%) you’ll recover without any need for medical intervention, following only mild symptoms at worst.

Keep your eyes peeled for part two of our pandemic special series next week, where we’ll dive deep into the science of cannabis as a medicine for COVID-19 and share the latest studies with you. In the meantime, be safe and feel free to contact us below with any questions.

Article updated and correct as of 12/02/2021. Information pertaining to the disease, vaccines and potential treatments is ever-changing. MCDSA maintains the stance that we are not promoting medical cannabis as a cure for COVID-19.

All information on this page is subject to MCDSA’s disclaimer.



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