Over the last few months, various headlines have emerged suggesting the potential for cannabinoids, and in particular, cannabidiol (CBD) to treat the often deadly inflammation caused by COVID-19 known as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Now, researchers have begun exploring another popular cannabinoid- tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound in cannabis- for the same effects.
For the study, the researchers exposed two groups of healthy mice to a bacterial infection called Staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB), known to cause mostly fatal cases of ARDS in mice. In this case, the researchers treated one of the groups with THC immediately after being infected by SEB, alongside doses 24 and 48 hours afterward.
In the end, they found that while all of the mice given THC survived, all those not given the compound died. Additionally, they found that THC tended to decrease lung inflammation and suppress the severity of cytokine storms, or an excess of inflammation-causing cells. They also noticed that those treated with THC had an elevation in regulatory T cells, known to suppress inflammation, alongside a shift in the expression of miRNA cells in the lungs, something that may have suppressed the cytokine storms too.
As such, the researchers say that the activation of cannabinoid receptors may be effective in treating ARDS associated with COVID-19. To see how this may also be the case in humans, the researchers then went on to compare the gene expression in patients with COVID-19 with ARDS to those of mice with ARDS from SEB. From a preliminary analysis, they found that THC may work well in humans too.
To see whether this is really the case, however, further tests are needed to better understand the mechanisms behind THC's therapeutic potential. Human trials later on down the line will also be needed to understand its true potential in humans. Nevertheless, the research until now suggests that THC may have the potential to be a powerful tool for preventing some of the worst outcomes from COVID-19.