Cannabis Compounds May Help Reduce Lung Inflammation in COVID-19

Photo of the cell shows a cluster of three human cells of the immune system (macrophages). In red- the cytoskeleton of the cell, in blue- nuclei, in green- nanoparticles that are being "caught" by the cell's "arms."

Eddy Belausov, Volcani Institute

Key Takeaways

  • New research shows that certain cannabis compounds may decrease inflamed lung cells.
  • This research could have implications in the treatment of coronavirus patients because lung inflammation is one of the most debilitating and deadly complications in the later stage of the disease.
  • Innovative methods have been developed to test the efficacy of the compounds. 
  • Clinical trials have not yet been conducted and caution is needed going forward, because while some cannabis compounds have been found to decrease lung inflammation, others can increase it.

Cannabis compounds could be helpful in fighting lung cell inflammation in patients with COVID-19, according to a paper published in Scientific Reports in January.

The paper looks at how cannabis could potentially be used to treat the inflammation related to the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2). The virus stimulates an acute inflammation in the lungs as well as in other body organs, known as a “cytokine storm.” 

Cytokine storms take place when the body produces too many immune cells and compounds that activate them, called cytokines. The result can be lung damage, respiratory distress syndrome, organ failure and other severe medical problems. For some COVID-19 patients, the immune system response to COVID-19 is to produce these cytokine storms. 

Lung inflammation is one of the leading causes of death from the global pandemic, which has infected more than 100 million people around the world and taken over 2.4 million lives in a little over a year.

Study author Hinanit Koltai, PhD, a researcher at the Agricultural Research Organization (ARO) at the Volcani Center in Israel, tells Verywell her team has identified a CBD rich fraction (FCBD) from the extract of a cannabis strain that seems to be able modify immune system activity in lung cells and macrophage cells, which are responsible for releasing cytokines. In turn, this FCBD can reduce inflammation.

In addition to CBD, cannabis compounds CBG and THCV may have clinical value in reducing cytokine secretion in lung epithelial cells.

“On the one hand, we know that cannabis works for the reduction of pain for different medical conditions—for the alleviation of symptoms of Crohn’s disease and colitis, for example,” Koltai says. Although her team has not yet worked with the COVID-19 virus in their research, they have been able to induce COVID-19-like inflammation into cells, so these results could have implications in treating the disease.

Nanotechnology Delivers Cannabis Compounds to Cells

Study co-author Guy Mechrez, PhD, a chemist at the Institute for Postharvest and Food Sciences at ARO, says that he and his research group, who are working with material science and nanotechnology, saw a unique opportunity to collaborate in an innovative way in the cannabis compound research. 

Using nanoparticles, “we were able to create an advanced delivery system that allowed us to deliver cannabis-based active material [into cells]," he tells Verywell. “We worked on the development of particles to allow Hinanit’s group to monitor phagocytosis [intake of particles] by cells.”

Koltai and her team have registered a patent to protect specific cannabis compositions that counteract lung cell inflammation.

The patent is based on the exclusive formulation of active ingredients that have been selectively extracted from cannabis due to their high anti-inflammatory activity. It is important to note, she says, that certain compositions of compounds from the plant have also been found to lead to a significant reduction in the expression of the ACE2 gene, a protein in lung cells that acts as receptor through which the coronavirus enters cells.

But she found that while cannabis can decrease inflammation, it can also have the opposite effect and increase inflammation if the correct compounds and amounts are not used.

“Although more studies are needed of cannabis treatment in COVID-19 patients, there needs to be caution in proposing cannabis treatment for these patients, as is presently being suggested in the media,” she says. "Using the full-spectrum cannabis extract has led to an increase, not a decrease, in the properties of inflammation, which suggests that caution should be exercised in using cannabis for COVID-19 patients, and the active ingredients that reduce inflammation properties should be selected from cannabis."

Koltai said her research group is hoping to move into clinical trials within a year.

"All efforts must be made to fight this new viral disease, and especially the acute inflammation that arises during the disease and may cause fatality," she says.

What This Means For You

It's still too early to know exactly how cannabis compounds would be administered to participants in clinical trials, but researchers are hopeful these compounds may be effective at stopping dangerous inflammation.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Anil SM, Shalev N, Vinayaka AC, et al. Cannabis compounds exhibit anti-inflammatory activity in vitro in COVID-19-related inflammation in lung epithelial cells and pro-inflammatory activity in macrophagesSci Rep. 14 Jan 2021;11:1462 doi:10.1038/s41598-021-81049-2

  2. World Health Organization. WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard.

  3. Nallathambi R, Mazuz M, Ion A, et al. Anti-inflammatory activity in colon models is derived from δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid that interacts with additional compounds in cannabis extractsCannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2017;2(1):167-182. doi:10.1089/can.2017.0027

By Hannah Brown
Hannah Brown is an Israel-based reporter who covers medicine, public health, special needs issues, and entertainment.