I hope this week finds everyone settling in with some extra time at home. As we are living through the greatest pandemic of our lifetime (fingers crossed), I thought it was only fitting that I would write about the effects cannabis may have on the life of a virus.

This week, I take a look at two studies; one which looks at cannabis applications for the HIV virus and a second study which researched the applications of the cannabinoid system for a deadly global respiratory virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

HIV and AIDS

(Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)

HIV entered our cosmos in the 1980s, and, like the coronavirus, brought with it a sense of fear due to our lack of knowledge on how to prevent and treat it.

Since that time, several classes of pharma drugs have been developed which have brought the infection to its knees.

These medications work through several pathways to decrease the ability of the virus to replicate itself in healthy cells. Strict patient adherence is required or the virus can quickly become resistant to the anti-viral regimen.

Anti-retroviral therapy (ART) has side effects that can make it difficult for patients to tolerate. The most common side effects are nausea, vomiting, and an HIV associated syndrome called cachexia (wasting syndrome). The combination of these side effects can lead to significant weight loss which can easily put a patient’s life at risk.

The benefits of how cannabis can help patients with an HIV diagnosis maintain a healthy status were discovered almost immediately. California passed Proposition 215 in 1996, also know as the Compassionate Use Act, in order to allow patients who needed cannabis to be able to have access to it.

With the development of multiple, effective HIV medications, an HIV diagnosis is no longer the death sentence it was 30 years ago. Patients who remain compliant with their meds can live for many decades after the diagnosis.

Recently, it was discovered how a person might actually be “cured” from HIV. On March 9, 2020 an article in the NY Times revealed the name of a second patient who has been labeled “cured” from the HIV virus. While treating his cancer, he received a bone marrow transplant which contained a genetic mutation that impeded the HIV virus from entering healthy cells.

This is a very rare occurrence, but it is exciting to know that a cure is possible. Most patients who remain compliant with their medication regimen can achieve a viral load so low it is considered “undetectable”. You can read the article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/09/health/hiv-aids-london-patient-castillejo.html

In my book, The Cannabis Prescription, I referenced a study that showed a component of cannabis that directly affected the life of the virus itself.

“While cannabis can improve the quality of life for patients living with HIV, a 2008 study showed that the molecule denbinobin in cannabis actually inhibits HIV-1 reactivation and may help decrease viral load. This is a direct effect on the virus itself.”¹

Along with denbinobin, cannabis is made up of hundreds of molecules in varying concentrations between strains. Cannabinoids, such as CBD and THC, have been shown to possess both potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects which may help alleviate issues such as cognitive dysfunction associated with the HIV virus.

Cannabis may also help with other issues associated with HIV such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and pain. Overall, the benefits of cannabis in regards to the pathogenesis of the HIV virus seem to be overwhelmingly positive, although time and further research will reveal the full extent of the benefits cannabis may have for patients carrying HIV.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Acute respiratory tract infections (ARTI) are estimated to be responsible for about two million childhood deaths around the world. There are no vaccines available for these viral infections and treatment options are limited.

I came across a 2008 study that looked at the anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory actions of cannabinoids and their possible benefits when applied to RSV infections and thought how these results might compare when used against a virus that also caused severe respiratory dysfunction and damage, the coronavirus.

The study discussed here is called Effects of cannabinoid receptor type 2 in respiratory syncytial virus infection in human subjects and mice.² It was published in the Virulence Journal (2018), “a peer-reviewed medical journal that covers microbiology and immunology specifically, microorganism pathogenicity, the infection process, and host-pathogen interactions.”³ The article is quite long, so I heavily edited the piece for purposes of this post. It encounters some amazing science surrounding endocannabinoid expression.

“Cannabinoids refer to a group of diverse components that include substances of the plant Cannabis sativa, endocannabinoids, and synthetic ingredients. The biological effects of cannabinoids are mediated through the activation of G-protein-coupled cannabinoid receptors including CB1 and CB2.”

High-level CB2 expressions by immune cells and the inducible expressions of these receptors in inflammatory condition suggest that the anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory action of cannabinoids are CB2-dependent.

“The data from our study, for the first time, suggests that CB2 receptors, as the primary signaling pathway for endocannabinoid immune modulation, may play a crucial role in maintaining immune homeostasis and controlling the magnitude of the immune response through negative regulation.”

“Since the activation of CB2 triggers anti-inflammatory action, targeting these receptors may be a novel and effective approach for the treatment of RSV-associated immunopathology.”

The study concludes by stating: “RSV-induced immunopathogenesis can be modulated by CB2 activation and may be a novel approach for the treatment of RSV bronchiolitis in children. However, caution is required due to the beneficial/harmful functions of endocannabinoid systems. It is important to note that different phases/stages of RSV infection and different age groups may require different treatment approaches.”

We have much to learn regarding how the Endocannabinoid Receptor System influences our overall health and body homeostasis.

The coronavirus can inhibit respiratory function to the point where ventilation is required. Do your lungs a favor and take care of them. If you need a break from smoking or vaping, consider using sublingual products.

Sublingual administration (under the tongue or the side of the cheek) works fast, not as fast as inhalation, but still very fast. The effects from a sublingual dose begin about 10-20 minutes after administration and last for 3 to 4 hours. It’s a great alternative to inhalation.

Stay safe, Friends!

  1. Sánchez-Duffhues G1, Calzado MA, de Vinuesa AG, Caballero FJ, Ech-Chahad A, Appendino G, Krohn K, Fiebich BL, Muñoz E. “Denbinobin, a naturally occurring 1,4-phenanthrenequinone, inhibits HIV-1 replication through an NF-kappaB-de- pendent pathway.” Biochemical Pharmacology. 2008 Nov 15;76(10):1240-50.

  2. Alireza Tahamtan,a Yazdan Samieipoor,a Fatemeh Sadat Nayeri,b Ali Akbar Rahbarimanesh,c Anahita Izadi,c Ali Rashidi-Nezhad,d Masoumeh Tavakoli-Yaraki,e Mohammad Farahmand,a Louis Bont,f Fazel Shokri,g Talat Mokhatri-Azad,a and Vahid Salimia., Effects of cannabinoid receptor type 2 in respiratory syncytial virus infection in human subjects and mice.Virulence. 2018; 9(1): 217–230.

  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virulence_(journal)

Award Winning Author & Coach

Colleen Higgins, R.Ph.

Colleen Higgins, R.Ph. is an author, speaker, and consultant who educates patients and cannabis manufacturers on the most effective ways to deliver cannabis as a medicine to the patients who need it.  

Colleen Higgins, R.Ph. has worked directly with patients in the role of pharmaceutical and cannabis distribution for over 25 years. She is certified in diabetes education (CDE), medication management (MTM) and as a Pain Management Specialty Pharmacist (PMSP).

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