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Can You Treat Coughs and Colds with Cannabis?

During winter, coughs and colds are something most of us deal with. Although the simple, ubiquitous viruses that cause these common illnesses are hard to “cure” outright, there are various ways that cannabis can be used to ease their symptoms. We will discuss how to incorporate cannabis into your diet and health care regime to prevent and treat colds.

The common cold is a viral, highly contagious illness that is more likely to affect people during the winter months. Responsible for a range of symptoms including dry or chesty cough, runny or congested nose, sore throat, fever and fatigue, the common cold is not caused by just one virus. Instead, it is associated with as many as 200 different viruses.

One type of virus particularly associated with the common cold is the rhinovirus (with “rhino” meaning “nose”, this literally just means “nose-virus”!), which can be the culprit for up to 40% of colds There are three main species of rhinovirus and at least 99 different serotypes (strains). As well as rhinovirus, the common cold is also associated with various strains of coronavirus, adenovirus, enterovirus and influenza virus.

How do cold viruses cause symptoms?

Cold viruses are passed from person to person by hand-to-hand and hand-to-surface contact, as well as airborne transmission of viral particles. Hence, it is important to cover the mouth or nose while coughing or sneezing, and to wash hands regularly!

Once a cold virus has infected a human host, it gets to work – infiltrating the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth, throat and reproducing rapidly. For the most part, cold viruses such as rhinovirus don’t cause any particular damage to the body – they simply cause an immune response as the body recognises unwanted invaders exploiting its resources.

But for immunocompromised people or individuals suffering from asthma or COPD, catching a cold can be seriously bad news.

Many rhinovirus serotypes bind to an immune protein known as intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1). This protein is present on the outer cell membrane of certain epithelial cells (which make up the upper layer of the mucous membranes). The rhinovirus essentially hijacks it to gain entry to the interior of the cell. Once the virus has gained entry to its first host cell, it can take control of the cell and hijack its reproductive system in order to reproduce itself. (Yikes!)

Usually, ICAM-1 helps cells adhere (stick together), particularly after injury or stress. But when it gets hijacked by the rhinovirus, it sparks off a release of pro-inflammatory cytokines (cell signalling proteins), which leads to inflammation of the mucous membranes of the throat and nose.

This inflammatory response is key to the congested and sore feeling associated with having a cold. For most people, that’s pretty much the worst of it – but it can lead to severe complications, including pneumonia, for certain people.

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Cannabinoids and ICAM-1

The endocannabinoid system is now well-known to be deeply involved with the immune system and cannabinoids have been repeatedly demonstrated to cause complex immunological effects. But when it comes to ICAM-1, there is sparse research available, and apparently nothing on the direct relationship between cannabinoids, ICAM-1 and rhinovirus.

There is evidence that cannabinoids can influence ICAM-1 expression levels in certain situations, though. One study reveals that CBD and THC can both cause increased expression of ICAM-1 on certain lung cancer cells, which leads to an increased rate of cell “lysis” (cell death via disintegration of the membrane).

This may be good news for cancer research, but increased expression of ICAM-1 is certainly not what one needs when trying to prevent a rhinovirus from taking hold. In fact, there is evidence that rhinovirus can increase the expression of ICAM-1 in order to provide itself more hijacking opportunities! Perhaps more useful is the discovery that certain cannabinoids can reduce the expression of ICAM-1 in other situations.

For example, the synthetic cannabinoid R(+)WIN 55,212-2 may indirectly block the expression of ICAM-1 by blocking the activity of interleukin-1, another important immunological protein. This particular study investigated multiple sclerosis and how cannabinoids can help slow its progression – and intriguingly, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that rhinovirus could be instrumental in the pathogenesis (development) of MS.

Clearly, there is still much to learn about the transmission and pathology of the rhinovirus and other types of common cold virus – as well as how all this relates to chronic autoimmune disorders like MS. But it’s clear that the endocannabinoid system is fundamentally involved. There may be potential for certain cannabinoids to help prevent the transmission of rhinoviruses in certain situations by reducing the expression of ICAM-1.

So how can cannabinoids help treat coughs and colds?

Despite all our best efforts, and no matter how healthy we are, it is almost inevitable that sooner or later one of those 200 viruses is going to overcome our body’s defence systems and cause a cold or cough. When that happens, there’s not a whole lot that can be done to actually cure the illness – cold viruses are so numerous and so quick to mutate that developing effective antivirals and vaccines is all but impossible.

So when we catch a cold, it is pretty much inevitable that we will have to let the virus run its course and that we will feel significantly subpar for several days. But there are various ways we can ease the symptoms of colds and coughs. For example:

  • honey
  • salt-water gargles
  • saline drips
  • ibuprofen
  • paracetamol

Of course, you probably already know that… But what about cannabis? There’s plenty of evidence that various compounds in cannabis have anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. THC, CBD, CBC and CBG are all known to exert. There are also plenty of terpenes and terpenoids in cannabis with similar properties, such as linalool, limonene and eucalyptol.

Various cannabinoids and terpenoids are even known for their relaxing, anti-anxiety or sedative effects. During times of illness, such properties may be very useful in increasing subjective feelings of wellbeing. And as what some might consider a bonus? Common colds can also cause appetite loss in some people and THC in particular has been repeatedly demonstrated to have appetite-stimulating properties.

How to use cannabis during a cold

When we catch a cold, we are likely to experience nasal congestion and sinus pain, sore throat, dry or chesty cough and irritated watery eyes – None of these symptoms are improved by smoking of any substance. Even vaping or dabbing will probably exacerbate sore throats and coughs – even if these methods are usually not as hot or as harsh as smoking itself.

For this reason, it’s best to stick to edibles, topicals and anything else that doesn’t cause irritation to the throat and lungs. Hard candies infused with CBD or THC can help soothe throat inflammation and soreness. At least one US company, Jolly Meds, offers THC-CBD lozenges with added menthol and eucalyptus oils to enhance their soothing and decongestant effects.

Another method that many people report to provide subjective relief is cannabis tea. Teas and herbal infusions can offer soothing, warming and comforting relief from cold and cough symptoms. When cannabis extracts are added, they may provide extra help in the fight against inflammation and pain.

There are many ways to make cannabis tea. The general idea though, is to ensure that at least some fat or oil is used. This will allow the cannabinoids to dissolve and infuse through the mixture. Hot water alone will not dissolve cannabinoids. Therefore, making some cannabutter or cannabis-infused milk and adding that to a hot-water infusion may yield improved results.

As well as cannabinoids themselves, various other plant compounds could provide benefits if infused into tea. For example, tea (particularly green tea) contains catechin flavonoids, which have been found to be beneficial against cold and flu viruses.

With winter comes the dreaded coughs and colds we all hate. While it’s hard to outright “cure” them, there are several ways cannabis can help.

CBD Oil for Cough – November 2020

Does CBD work for coughs, and if so, how?

Coughing is a reflex that keeps the throat and airways clear. While it can be annoying, coughing helps the body protect and heal itself.

Coughs may either be acute or chronic. Acute coughs often begin suddenly and last no more than 2 or 3 weeks. Acute coughs are the kind that one often gets with a cold, flu, or acute bronchitis (1 ) .

Chronic coughs may last longer than 2 or 3 weeks and causes vary. Causes of chronic coughs may include:

  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  • Smoking
  • Throat disorders, like croup in young children

Water can help ease coughing, whether one drinks it or add it to the air with a steamy shower or vaporizer.

For a cold or the flu, antihistamines may work better than non-prescription cough medicines. Note that cough medicines are not recommended for children under four years old. For children over four, use caution and read labels carefully (2 ) .

Why Some People Are Taking CBD for Cough

Some people are using cannabis as a natural alternative treatment for cough symptoms.

CBD for Congestion

The plant’s anti-inflammatory properties have been shown to help individuals cope with symptoms, like sore throat, sinus pain , and body aches.

Nasal congestion may be one of the most annoying and uncomfortable cold symptoms.

When the virus attacks the nasal passage, it causes it to swell up and overproduce mucus. This overproduction of mucus clogs sinuses causing pain and pressure.

Decongestants help relieve nasal stuffiness by narrowing blood vessels and reducing swelling in the nose. However, decongestants can increase blood pressure (3 ) .

Meanwhile, CBD may also act as a decongestant by helping reduce inflammation, providing relief from the pressure and sinus drips.

Unlike other decongestants, CBD does not cause concern for those with cardiovascular issues.

Data from a study even showed that acute administration of CBD reduces resting blood pressure and blood pressure due to stress (4 ) .

An anti-inflammatory, CBD may help open up the sinus passages and increase ease of breathing, although research is not conclusive.

Targeting the inflammation , CBD may help calm the membranes that line the nasal passages, decreasing congestion and opening up those airways.

A study showed the mechanism by which CBD inhibits inflammatory and neuropathic pain (5 ) .

CBD’s potent anti-inflammatory properties were also demonstrated in a 2018 study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (6 ) .

Meanwhile, CBD may act as an analgesic, relieving pain. A study published in Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management showed how employing cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, helped in the management of difficult-to-treat pain (7 ) .

CBD may offer an option for treating different types of chronic pain (8 ) .

CBD for Bacterial Infections

CBD has natural antibacterial properties that may help fight against secondary bacterial infections that can develop from the cold and flu.

A study showed the antibacterial characteristics of delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) (9 ) .

Another study, conducted in 2019 by researchers from the University of Queensland, showed CBD might be a capable fighter against bacterial infections (10 ) .

CBD for Fevers

A fever may develop as the body fights a viral infection, like the common cold. A fever is also a sign of inflammation.

Cannabinoids could play a role in inhibiting the progression of a fever caused by a virus (11 ) .

If the fever is part of a more substantial inflammatory reaction, the use of CBD oil can trigger an anti-inflammatory response through its action in the body’s endocannabinoid system .

Data from a review published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research in 2020 overwhelmingly support the concept that CBD is immunosuppressive (12 ) .

CBD’s potential as an immune suppressor means it may have positive effects when the immune system becomes hyperactive or weakened.

Hemp oil has antiproliferative effects, as indicated in a 201 7 study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology (13 ) . The findings demonstrated that CBD might help stop cell growth of foreign organisms, like the cold virus.

When the immune system launches its attack on a virus, it causes an inflammatory response that produces flu or cold-like symptoms.

While the body uses its endocannabinoids to moderate the immune response, it is not always capable of controlling the inflammatory process.

Cannabinoids in cannabis plants help by providing the natural endocannabinoid mechanism with a much-needed boost.

Moreover, constant use of these cannabinoids, found in full-spectrum CBD extracts, may help the body protect itself against a future attack.

CBD for Relaxing Muscles

CBD oil may not only provide anti-inflammatory effects, as studies have shown. CBD may help with relaxing the muscles as well.

CBD’s potential muscle-relaxant qualities may be of interest to those suffering from a persistent cough. CBD oil may reduce the inflamed airway and relax the muscles to reduce coughing.

Through the mechanism by which CBD works with the endocannabinoid system, CBD is useful in treating muscle pain by calming excessively-contracting muscles.

This mechanism is explained in a 2013 study published in the Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal (14 ) .

Also, CBD may help reduce muscle spasms, a feature of neuropathic damage which often manifests in painful, uncontrolled muscle twitches (15 ) .

Conclusion

CBD hemp oil may be available in different forms of CBD products, such as tincture, vape juice, or lozenges.

CBD is generally well-tolerated with a good safety profile, says the World Health Organization (WHO) (16 ) .

Studies have shown that some of CBD’s purported therapeutic benefits may be useful in treating some of the causes and symptoms of cough.

However, note that more longitudinal research is needed, as the results from previous studies are not conclusive. Also, the long-term side effects of CBD use are still unknown.

Thus, before using CBD oil for cough as an adjunct therapy or for treating symptoms of medical conditions linked to cough, make sure to consult with a doctor experienced in cannabis use for advice.

Coughing is a reflex that keeps the throat and airways clear. While it can be annoying, coughing helps the body protect and heal itself. Some people are using cannabis as a natural alternative treatment for cough symptoms.