Hashish for coronavirus
Things are looking very bleak in the US healthcare sector right now. The cost of health care in the US has increased every year, and I have been saying for years that the US healthcare system will implode on itself. As the coronavirus spreads, it is becoming clear that this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Hospitals will be overwhelmed with sick patients dying from coronavirus.
It’s a good time to discuss how cannabis can prove useful in these patients who cannot get beds in the intensive care unit. Some of them will die at home, and cannabis can be a lifesaver.
But first, let’s discuss the risks of cannabis use at this point. Obviously, patients who inhale cannabis products tend to share their vape pens and their joints. That’s a terrible idea. Cannabis is a social drug and socializing is not advisable at this point. We have to keep social distance and use our own products, not those of others. Inhaling cannabis makes us prone to coughing and the spread of germs in the air. Make sure to cover your mouth with your elbow or a handkerchief to prevent the coronavirus from being aerosolized around you to infect others.
However, cannabis can come in handy at a time when the coronavirus is ready to kill us. We don’t have any drugs to treat the coronavirus, only those that relieve symptoms. The virus kills us through a complex series of immune responses that lead to sepsis. When a patient goes through sepsis, their immune system releases chemicals that spread throughout the body with serious consequences. Small amounts of inflammation in the body are helpful in healing and preventing infection from spreading, but massive systemic inflammation is killing us. Our vessels choose, our organs fail and we die from inflammatory overload. That happens to victims of the coronavirus.
Cannabis contains THC, its active ingredient. THC binds CB1 receptors in the brain, which makes us high. THC also binds CB2 receptors to cells in the immune system, such as white blood cells. When CB2 receptors are activated by cannabis, it modulates the immune system’s response and lowers the amount of inflammatory chemicals released. It’s an anti-inflammatory drug like no other. Cannabis has received very minimal research due to the ban on government funded research, and we have few studies on which to base treatment. In such situations, however, we can use the theoretical mechanisms of drugs to hypothesize how they will bring benefit or harm. We know cannabis has never killed anyone, and we know it has immune system effects that can be beneficial during times of sepsis. This January article explains some of these mechanisms.
When I was a hospital doctor and a resident of internal medicine, I started treating ICU patients with synthetic THC. The drug that is legal and exactly the same as THC is called Dronabinol and has been FDA approved since the 1990s. I would give this drug to patients that I couldn’t improve in the intensive care unit. Suddenly they would eat more and react to their families. It would help them enough getting them from the intensive care unit to the medical floors to be released to nursing homes and back to normal life. At the time, I felt that it was the psychological properties of THC that would improve her psychological wellbeing, and that a response to thoughts about matter would occur to improve her condition. But when I look at it more closely, I wonder if these patients who were septic were actually responding to the CB2 receptor mechanism that would improve their sepsis and allow their bodies to recover. If so, cannabis can be extremely useful for patients when trying to recover from coronavirus infection that causes severe sepsis with organ failure.
I encourage patients to report cannabis use in severe coronavirus infections. When there seems to be no hope of surviving an infection in an elderly patient or in those with comorbidities that make fighting the virus difficult, a last resort may be to ingest or inhale THC to help lower the inflammatory response in severe sepsis and Give the body a chance to recover. These recommendations are based on theory and not studies. So if you try them out, you do so at your own risk. However, if treatment improves a patient’s condition, it should be documented or discussed with health care practitioners and reported to the federal government. That way, if cannabinoid receptor agonists like THC are found to be helpful for this condition, the government must immediately change their stance on the marijuana ban to make up for the lost time it caused in their research and the life we do thereby having lost knowledge of the usefulness of THC.
If you’re a naturopath or patient interested in information about medical cannabis, pre-order the Clinician’s Guide to Cannabis, available in June. It is currently only available for pre-order in digital (Kindle) version, but a paperback version will be on sale this summer.