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Cannabidiol (CBD) has gained a reputation as something of a “cure-all.” Its antioxidantanti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties have seen the cannabinoid, and cannabis itself, become a commonly suggested remedy for all manner of ailments, from chronic pain, to anxiety, and more.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that, as the coronavirus spreads around the world, CBD misinformation has followed. One unlicensed CBD brand in Canada has claimed it can help defend against coronavirus, while another CBD retailer in Idaho took down a message on its e-commerce website which mentioned coronavirus, following a caution from US federal regulators.

Clinical evidence for CBD as an effective antiviral is sparse, though there are a small handful of preclinical studies that suggest the cannabinoid could be of use in treating viral hepatitis C and Kaposis sarcoma. Still, there is no evidence that the compound could be useful in tackling COVID-19 in the same way.

The theoretical attraction of CBD

Some experts believe that CBD products might experience a small boost in sales at this time, as those familiar with the products include them in their shopping trips to stock up on essentials during periods of self-isolation.

With COVID-19 causing pneumonia-like symptoms, such as fever, there would appear to be some logic behind the idea that CBD could be helpful. After all, CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects are fairly well documented, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly recommended to manage fevers and associated aches and pains.

Orally administered CBD has also been shown to improve the condition of patients with certain autoimmune disorders, lending credence to the idea that CBD could provide a helpful boost to the body’s immune system function.

However, new advice put out by French authorities in the last few days effectively contradicts this line of thinking.

The problem with anti-
inflammatory treatments 

The French health minister, Olivier Véran, who is also a qualified doctor and neurologist, sent out a tweet this weekend reading stating that, “the taking of anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen, cortisone…) could be a factor in aggravating the infection. In case of fever, take paracetamol. If you are already taking anti-inflammatory drugs, ask your doctor’s advice.”

Jean-Louis Montastruc, the head of pharmacology at Toulouse hospital, also repeated this warning to RTL Radio, saying that “anti-inflammatory drugs increase the risk of complications when there is a fever or infection.”

The warnings come on the same day the French government released new official recommendations, which link the use of NSAIDs to “grave adverse effects” being seen in patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. The recommendations also advise that patients taking corticosteroids or other immuno-suppressants to manage a chronic condition continue to do so, unless advised differently by their doctor.

These anti-inflammatories are a risk, the health officials point out, because anti-inflammatory drugs are known to suppress the body’s immune system response, and so aren’t advisable to use in managing infectious illnesses.

Paul Little, a professor of primary care research at the University of Southampton told the Guardian that, “the general feeling is that the French advice is fairly sensible. There is now a sizeable literature from case control studies in several countries that prolonged illness or the complications of respiratory infections may be more common when non-steroidal anti-inflammatories [NSAIDs] are used.”

“If you’re suppressing that natural response, you’re likely inhibiting your body’s ability to fight off infection.”

Present guidance from the British National Health Service (NHS) contends that there “is currently no strong evidence that ibuprofen can make coronavirus (COVID-19) worse,” but still advises people with COVID-19 and COVID-19-like symptoms to take alternatives to NSAIDs, such as paracetamol, wherever possible.

While discussion of these risks has centered around the more common NSAIDs, it appears to be prudent to apply the same caution to the use of CBD due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

“Zero evidence” to suggest CBD can manage COVID-19

Even apart from this caution, it’s important to recognize that there is currently no scientific research or clinical evidence suggesting that CBD could be effective in safely managing any specific symptoms of COVID-19.

“There is currently absolutely no evidence that CBD can play any role in altering the course of coronavirus (COVID-19) disease and I would strongly urge the CBD industry to stay far away from making any suggestion, however subtle, that it does,” Dr Andy Yates, science lead at the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry, told Food Navigator.

Last week, one CBD retailer in Idaho took down a message on their e-commerce website which mentioned coronavirus, following a caution from federal regulators.

The herbalist didn’t mention coronavirus in relation to any of their CBD products, although the website did include a listing from another herbalist which detailed a “coronavirus protocol” recommending the use of herbal supplements. In response, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an official warning letter asking that the misleading information be removed.

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn has said that the agency will be aggressively monitoring and pursuing businesses and bad actors whose actions are deemed to be putting public health at risk.

“During a time of serious national and international challenges our industry needs to show leadership and a strong moral compass and do the right thing,” Yates added.

“If companies are interested in researching the potential anti-inflammatory or other effects of CBD in coronavirus or any other disease state then they should make the investment in doing the proper research to generate data and publish that data in peer-reviewed scientific or clinical journals for others to access and build upon.”