A recent study found that cannabis users had better outcomes than non-users, when it comes to covid.
The corona virus
Having the corona virus is not ideal; but its never ideal to have a virus. The reality of life is that we do nearly everything we can, to avoid any kind of sickness, or pain, or uncomfortable experience. Of course, try as we might, life happens anyway; and consistent with that, the grand pandemic of the last few years, has by now hit a wide percentage of the population.
Covid, or SARS-CoV-2, or corona, is often defined as a ‘novel’ virus; but in fact, this terminology simply means we hadn’t specifically dealt with this particular version of corona before. The virus is actually a member of the Coronaviridae family of viruses, which accounted for 45 different already known-about species, in 2020. In fact, 15% of all common colds, are coronaviruses; which means, they’re rather common. Several years before this corona came out, we dealt with a fundamentally more deadly version, dubbed SARS. So, really, we’re very familiar with coronaviruses.
So familiar, in fact, that there was already a lot of research done on how to fight them. Much of that research was done in the plant world; where it was established as early as 2003, that glycyrrhizin from licorice “was the most active in inhibiting replication of the SARS-associated virus.” According to researchers of the study the quote comes from, “findings suggest that glycyrrhizin should be assessed for treatment of SARS.” This was not done, however. Instead, it became a big debate about masks and vaccines.
The pandemic has been one of the most hotly contested topics of debate recently. Everything from what exactly it does, to how deadly it is, to how quickly it spreads, to the efficacy of vaccines and masks; were all points of argument throughout the US, and the world. It got to the point where people were fighting over whether the flu had gone out of existence, with all damage attributable to corona (it didn’t.)
You’d think this virus was the topic of Martians landing on the earth, or Bigfoot; it certainly came off that way. And as such, I’m not here to give opinions. Rather, I’m here to share some new research, which explains how its quite possible that cannabis users did better than non cannabis users, when it comes to covid outcomes.
Covid and cannabis study – set up
It’s not like study investigators went around and asked everyone who had covid, what their cannabis use habits were. All data for the recently published study, Exploring the relationship between marijuana smoking and covid-19 outcomes, came from the National Inpatient Sample Database. All individuals, therefore, were admitted into a hospital, and came up positive on a covid test.
According to study investigators, the “purpose of the study is to compare the outcomes of COVID-19 infection on individuals who use marijuana and those who do not.” The thought behind the investigation, is that cannabinoids have at least some immunomodulatory abilities; but that we don’t always know what they are, or where they’re beneficial. In this particular case, the investigation was purely into how people with covid fared; between cannabis users, and non-users.
Cannabis use was the dividing factor, which created two groups. Beyond looking at just cannabis use, investigators also took into account demographics information, and issues of comorbidity with other medical issues/problems. Investigators automatically excluded patients without all data available, and who were under 18 years of age. Investigators used something called “greedy propensity” to match marijuana users to non-users at a ratio of 1:1, for age, race, gender, and 17 other factors, like chronic heart or lung disease.
What did the covid cannabis study find?
Altogether, the study looked at the information of 322,214 patients; and of them, 2,603 used cannabis. Overall, cannabis users were generally younger, and had a greater chance of being tobacco users as well. Regardless of more tobacco use, however, the cannabis users group, showed less issues with “obstructive sleep apnea, obesity, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus.”
A univariate analysis showed that those who used cannabis, had a 6.8% chance of intubation vs the 12% chance of non-cannabis users; a 2.1% chance of acute respiratory distress syndrome, in comparison to 6% for non-users; a 25% chance of acute respiratory failure, compared to 52.9% for non-users; and a 5.8% chance of severe sepsis accompanied by multi-organ failure, in comparison to 12% for everybody else.
Other places where cannabis users showed greater health than their non-using contemporaries, were with the following: in-hospital cardiac arrest, which was 1.2% for cannabis users vs 2.7% for non-users; and death, for which cannabis users had a 2.9% chance vs non-users at 13.5%.
Study investigators concluded that “Marijuana smokers had better outcomes and mortality compared to non-users. The beneficial effect of marijuana use may be attributed to its potential to inhibit viral entry into cells and prevent the release of proinflammatory cytokines, thus mitigating cytokine release syndrome.” They continued that the topic “warrants further investigation of the association between marijuana use and COVID-19.”
An interesting take-away
I’m not here to make medical judgements about this research, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t spend a little time on one point: cigarettes. The reason I bring them up, is because smoking in general (lighting something on fire and breathing it in) is the most destructive overall drug or method of consumption. It’s related to so many health problems, that it brings up a point of interest here.
The cannabis group was associated with two things: a higher rate of tobacco use, and a lower rate of all the issues listed above. This one specific vice does not account for other bad health behaviors like drinking or overeating; so this specification doesn’t have to be meaningful. But its still interesting to ponder for a moment.
The group that should’ve had raised issues with all co-morbid diseases, (especially related to the lungs and heart); had fewer in some arenas. It’s almost never seen that the tobacco-using group, is the group also associated with less health problems, and a lesser rate of death. Now, sure, it could be that everyone else was a heavy drinker, or had some other health-hurting habit, or that the data collected is not an accurate representation. Studies often fall short, and we don’t have all information.
So, is this actually true? I can’t verify it. I point it out for the sheer fact that it’s not usually seen. Usually, when there are higher rates of tobacco use, this means smoking; and smoking means higher rates of just about everything else. We’re talking about people who made it into a hospital because of this virus, so it suffices to say that no one was in particularly good shape going in. Yet somehow, even with more tobacco users; the weed group did better medically.
I should put in, however, that how the tobacco users used the tobacco, was not defined. Nor was it defined, how cannabis users, used cannabis. Its quite possible that a large percentage of tobacco users, were vaping instead, and not actively smoking. Either way, this gives credence to both the ideas that cannabis can fight illness, and that vaping is a better option to smoking.
This is just one study. Chances are, if you mess with numbers enough, you can get them to say just about anything, so even these results can be taken with a grain of salt. Even so, we of the cannabis world can take this as a win for now. And perhaps beyond looking into how well components of licorice can treat the illness, we should also be looking further at how cannabis fights covid.
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