5 Things to Know About Cannabis and COVID-19 According to a Cannabis Nurse
At the start of 2022, as we rounded on our second year in the COVID-19 pandemic, a published study revealed some of the health benefits of cannabis sativa. Interestingly, the study read to the untrained eye like cannabis could protect users from COVID-19 infection.
Let's be clear: Smoking marijuana will not help protect you from getting the highly contagious coronavirus.
"Wouldn't that be fun if it were true!" says cannabis nurse Eve Kandiyoti.
Data in the study shows that cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) — two of the cannabinoid compounds found in cannabis — helped prevent infection in the lab. The researchers found the compounds blocked a pathway the spike protein of COVID-19 used to infect cells.
Researchers further wrote of the need for agents to work alongside vaccines to treat or prevent COVID-19. One of the researchers commented on the safety of the compounds and the "potential to prevent, as well as treat, infection by SARS-CoV-2."
Eve Kandiyoti, RN, MSN, is the founder of MC Wellness Group and a nurse who specializes in cannabis use for patients. We spoke with her about how cannabis actually interacts with COVID-19, the key takeaways from the study, and how the information may impact patient care.
5 Key Takeaways From the Cannabis-COVID-19 Study
There are several key takeaways from this study. These help to put the data into perspective as it impacts the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.
1. Smoking is not the preferred method from a health and wellness perspective
Kandiyoti notes that while smoking or vaping cannabis is common to consume cannabis recreationally, it is not the preferred method from a wellness perspective.
Inhaling any heated product may cause inflammatory changes and damage to the cells lining the lungs. One study demonstrated that heating tobacco instead of burning it in an IQOS device created as much damage as a traditional cigarette.
2. This study was not tested on human subjects
Kandiyoti also points out that the results of this study came from a lab setting without any human subjects. While the data showed two cannabis compounds prevented viral entry into human cells, it happened in a test tube and not the more complex human body.
The next step is animal studies before researchers move on to testing humans.
"Be on the lookout for more research and double-blind studies with human subjects. In these types of studies, the most practical information will be uncovered," she advises.
3. Smoking cannabis alone isn't enough to fight off COVID-19
The two cannabinoids identified for study — CBDA and CBGA — are present in very small amounts in the cannabis plant. They are not found in most common cannabinoid products, such as gummies or CBD oil.
Although CBG is normally found in low amounts in the cannabis plant, breeders can cultivate high CBG plants. The CBG is then extracted into liquid form.
Like CBD products, CBG products do not contain the psychoactive component THC.
4. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is
As cannabis and COVID-19 made countless headlines after the study came out, remember: If it's too good to be true, it probably is. Kandiyoti warns you must use your critical thinking skills as you read studies.
Especially when reading a summary, "make sure it is being analyzed and interpreted by a credible person who has experience and knowledge in analyzing research studies," she says.
5. Keep your eyes peeled for more budding research
Although the research into COVID-19 is an exciting first step, before data can be applied to human health, it must also pass further testing and animal research. This helps scientists discover how the compounds work within a more complex system.
However, past research on cannabinoid compounds has demonstrated health benefits that are safe. As Kandiyoti points out, the research is also undoing much of the misinformation about the plant that led to the legal prohibition.
FAQ: Cannabis and COVID-19
Smoking is not a healthy way to consume cannabinoids. The simple act of inhaling hot vapors increases the inflammatory response and can damage lung tissue.
Additionally, Kandiyoti points out that the two compounds studied are not found in large amounts in the plant. The researchers first concentrated the compounds before testing on the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
CBDA and CBGA are the acidic forms of CBD and CBG. CBDA and CBGA are cannabinoids in the raw form or straight from the plant.
The acids are released when exposed to temperatures over 220 F. Smoking cannabis burns off the CBDA and CBGA acid, converting it into CBD and CBG. It is molecularly different and can react at the cellular level differently.
Remember, heat is heat. For example, cooking or using tea water greater than 220 F will convert CBDA to CBD and CBGA to CBG.
Researchers discovered that CBGA, CBDA, and THCA have properties that might affect the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in the coronavirus.
CBGA, CBDA, and THCA all have the potential to bind with the spike protein, inhibit entry into the cell, and stop infection. Further testing and computer modeling demonstrated that CBDA and CBGA could block entry of the virus into human cells entirely by binding with the spike protein.
Researchers also found that the higher the dose of CBDA and CBGA, the greater the live virus was neutralized. However, the researchers also note that it is impossible to consume this high dose through smoking cannabis flower. Rather, the compounds must be distilled from cannabis and concentrated.
Cannabis has been used in traditional medicine and as a source of fiber for centuries.
The plant is a complex combination of different molecules and over 120 known phytocannabinoids. THC is the psychoactive compound that provides the "high" from marijuana. It was the first cannabinoid compound isolated from the cannabis plant. In addition to the psychoactive component, research has demonstrated THC also has analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and potential anticancer properties.
CBD and CBG are two other compounds that can be isolated from the cannabis plant. They do not have psychoactive properties. The largest portion of research has been on CBD, demonstrating positive effects on anxiety, inflammation, seizures, and potential anticancer properties.
The Future of Cannabis in Healthcare
In her experience in cannabis nursing, Kandiyoti is looking forward to further research that can more accurately pinpoint the method and dosing that would be best for human use.
"The cannabis nursing community is excited about cannabis' growing body of scientific evidence and its impact on removing prohibition and stigma," she says.
Kandiyoti advises cannabis nurses to fully understand future studies as they transparently relay the information to their clients. While the current study didn't use human subjects, nor could the data support clinical recommendations, Kandiyoti is excited about the contribution to the benefits of raw cannabis.
"You can not get elevated or high using acidic cannabinoids, which may open the door to people who would otherwise not consider using cannabinoid therapeutics," she said.
How Nurses Can Advocate Increased Access to Cannabis in Healthcare
Nurses are natural patient advocates. However, as Kandiyoti points out, many cannabis nurses don't speak out for the legitimate concerns of losing their job or fear retaliation from the healthcare system.
Nurses do have access to professional organizations to make a difference in patient care and help end the stigma of cannabis nursing, including:
- American Nurses Association
- Americans for Safe Access
- National Cannabis Industry Association
- Cannabis Nurses Network
By providing education and information about treatments with cannabinoid compounds, nurses can impact the legislative efforts of organizations like the American Nurses Association.
Nurses can work through the state association and independently and contact their local, state, and federal representatives.
"Have conversations with them about the endocannabinoid system, address their concerns, and identify the benefits to their constituents," Kandiyoti says.
Americans for Safe Access and the National Cannabis Industry Association are other advocacy groups that help people organize in their state to advocate for medical cannabis. Americans for Safe Access also has statistics on each state and an advocate training center.
The Cannabis Nurses Network is another way for nurses to network with other cannabis nurses and learn more. The organization has an advocacy group that is a great way to start your cannabis advocacy journey, Kandiyoti says.
"They provide fantastic support and resources," Kandiyoti says. "It is a safe place for nurses to learn more."
Meet Our Contributor
Eve Kandiyoti is a registered nurse with over 16 years of experience and is the MC Wellness Group founder. She is a doctoral candidate and holds a master of nursing education. Her career started in the emergency department before shifting to education and advocacy roles in patient service programs. Her career goal is to integrate innovative value-based care to improve health outcomes.
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