//Cannabis vs Covid

Cannabis vs Covid

By I. smiley G. Calderón | smileygcalderon@gmail.com

It’s a serious discussion that we have to have – especially now.

But first, you need to stop thinking of cannabis as the ‘pothead’s poison’ or the ‘druggy’s reefer’ – it’s not the ‘madman’s marijuana.’ Put down the stereotypes for now and try to let go of any deep-rooted biases or stigmas about this controversial and enigmatic plant. Yes, it has been demonized and negatively politicized around the world – and yes, our central government still federally categorizes it as an absolutely illegal and illicit substance as a Schedule I drug. Make no mistake – there’s been a calculated, massive war waged against cannabis in modern times.

But, we, the people, have also made some incredible progress recently.  

Across the country, cannabis is now legal for adults over 21 (called ‘recreational’) in 15 states and Washington, D.C., Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Montana and New Jersey’s laws came into effect just recently – at the start of 2021 – and South Dakota’s amendment does not go into effect until July 2021. It is medicinally legal in 35 states as well as in every U.S. territory except for American Samoa (surprisingly and sadly, it is still completely illegal there in any form – even with a physician’s recommendation or prescription – offenders are warned there is a mandatory 5-year prison sentence or $5,000 fee, or both, for mere possession). 

And our golden state of California has been leading the way. (Well, actually, Oregon was the first to decriminalize cannabis way back in 1973, and in 2012, Washington and Colorado made history in being the first to completely legalize it for adults over 21). But, as I wrote about last time, California was the first state to lay the groundwork for legalization in 1996 with its passage of Proposition 215, the “Compassionate Use Act,” making cannabis legal as medicine prescribed (recommended) by a licensed physician.

Because it is medicine – a powerful one.

Cannabis is central to our incredible endocannabinoid system. You’ve heard of your body’s well-studied endocrine system, nervous system, and immune system – but what do you know about your endocannabinoid system? Probably not much because it is not well-known, not even by doctors. Studying this system has been historically esoteric and elusive due to the stigma of cannabis and its turbulent, illegal status. But, this poorly understood body system is crucial and vital to homeostasis and well-being.  

It’s only been about 30 years since researchers finally identified the brain cell receptor that cannabis activates. It’s called CB1 (Cannabinoid receptor type 1) – and it’s found in your central and peripheral nervous systems. In fact, it’s the most abundant receptor found in the mammalian brain. And, it’s all throughout the entire body, as well. Another vital receptor that is a part of your endocannabinoid system is CB2 – and this one is primarily found in the cells that make up your immune and hematopoietic systems, found in places like your bone marrow and lymph nodes. Your body naturally produces endocannabinoids that activate these important receptors in your brain and all throughout the body. Still, they only seem to do it on demand, and their production and release are not well understood. One of the main ones is called anandamide. It is not found in large quantities in the body. But, where you can find large amounts of natural CB1 and CB2’ activators’ is in the cannabis plant. There are 60+ different phytocannabinoids. The most famous is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the only one with psychoactive effects. The other famous one is CBD (cannabidiol). Both of these powerful cannabinoids work synergistically together within your extensive endocannabinoid system to heal your body and maintain homeostasis. It’s genuinely unique how intrinsically tied our human species is to this amazing, friendly plant.

Cannabis reduces inflammation, reduces pain, reduces seizures. It increases appetite, helps with nausea, and hyperemesis. It has even been shown to inhibit cancers and tumor growth. Cannabis can do all of this because its cannabinoids utilize the vast and extensive endocannabinoid system all throughout your body to disrupt tumor intracellular processing and signaling. This system is truly remarkable. If it can do all of this naturally, it makes you wonder.

Could it be the panacea to our pandemic?

First off – don’t get too excited just yet. This is all preliminary research kind of stuff, observational studies, and associations. It’s kind of like the recent correlation that a high percentage of people who experienced terrible Covid outcomes also had low levels of Vitamin D. Hint: start take your daily supplemental Vit. D right now, if you’re not already doing so – it is crucial for your immunity, especially during this time! Much more research needs to be done, of course, but there have been some interesting theories.

For example, researchers in Canada have shown that cannabis (specifically Sativa) high in CBD may be useful in downregulating the expression of ACE-2 receptors in the body. This is an important finding because, as I mentioned last time, ACE-2 receptors are the receptors that SARS-CoV-2 uses as a loading dock to enter your cells, inject its RNA code, and take over critical tissue like your lungs, kidneys, and heart – everywhere there are a lot of ACE-2 receptors. And, quite frankly, they’re everywhere in your body, all throughout your endothelial system, in our blood vessels – which is why the coronavirus is so damn efficient and effective in spreading everywhere in your body. Once infected, it can wreak havoc all throughout your body. Many infected people don’t just experience the sniffles or the curious inconvenient loss of smell or taste. Some have life-changing (or ending) heart attacks, strokes, and organ failures – all because of the coronavirus’s efficiency of using these ACE-2 receptors to invade and multiply – receptors found everywhere in your body. And, of course, we all know that there are lung damage and scarring after a nasty Covid infection. Well, it’s no surprise, the lung has a whole lot of ACE-2 receptors. So, in short, the idea here is that cannabis could be used as a therapeutic or even as prevention to Covid because of its ACE-2 receptor reduction effect, limiting the ability for the coronavirus to be able to dock on and invade cells, something it’s normally really good at doing.

Another way cannabis might help fight against the coronavirus is in hyper inflammation and the cytokine storm syndrome that results when your immune system becomes pathogenic. It starts attacking your own body in a desperate last-ditch attempt to rid you of viral invasion. It’s a serious autoimmune condition that severe Covid infection can induce. Preliminary studies have suggested that endocannabinoid system activation by cannabis high in CBD synergistically works well with THC to decrease inflammatory cytokine release.

The phytocannabinoids in cannabis is known to improve cellular endothelial function in hemorrhagic, endotoxic, and cardiogenic shock as they reduce blood coagulation. These cannabinoids act as potent vasodilators and bronchodilators. They are also known to slow neurodegeneration. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has classified cannabinoids as ‘neuroprotectants.’ CBD has been shown to reduce pulmonary leukocyte migration and improve the horrible symptoms of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). This dangerous breathing condition leads to hypoxemia and death in severe Covid patients. There is currently no FDA approved drug to treat ARDS. Still, related studies by researchers at the University of South Carolina on rats have shown that THC is highly effective in reducing ARDS symptoms, effective in preventing ARDS, and promoting the growth of healthy lung bacteria. 

CBD is also known to have antiviral effects. Studies have shown CBD’s success with hepatitis C and Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus. More research is currently being done to understand how CBD might specifically impact coronaviruses, as well. But, as mentioned earlier, in addition to CBD’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties, it might affect Covid by way of its downregulation of the ubiquitous ACE-2 receptor. 

Our bodies are carefully and powerfully designed to activate our most secret and effective weapon of well-being – our endocannabinoid system in times of need. It is unlocked by the powerful phytocannabinoids found endogenously within cannabis. We can’t continue to disregard or deny this incredible plant’s well-known antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-modulatory effects that permeate our bodies through our vast CB1 and CB2 receptor network, as well as through other synergistic interactions with different body systems. Our body systems are meant to work smoothly in unison. And cannabis promotes this. Cannabis promotes healing and restoration.

During these scary and perilous pandemic times, don’t be ashamed to promote your own healing and restoration this New Year – with 2020 behind us, look onward and upward, breathe and partake…

I. smiley G. Calderón is a Gen X Chicano and lifelong educator who spent a career in academia in Southern California, but is most proud of being a father…