Researchers at the Dental College of Georgia and Medical College of Georgia (MCG) have found a way to utilise Cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical in the marijuana plant.

According to researchers, CBD can be used to reduce the effect of cytokine storms, triggered by overly-activated immune responses. These storms are especially seen in critically-ill Covid-19 patients. Their study was published in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine.

According to the researchers, CBD can cause an increase in the levels of a natural peptide called apelin, which is known to reduce inflammation and whose levels are dramatically reduced during a cytokine storm.

The researchers noted in their study that CBD has the ability to improve oxygen levels and reduce inflammation. The compound also helped reduce the physical lung damage in their laboratory model of deadly adult respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS.

On the shifting apelin levels in both circulating blood and lung tissue, Dr Babak Baban, DCG immunologist and associate dean for research, said: “It was dramatic in both directions.”

The authors of the study found that blood levels of the peptide dropped close to zero in their ARDS model and increased 20 times with CBD.

“CBD almost brought it back to a normal level,” Dr. Jack Yu, physician-scientist and chief of paediatric plastic surgery at MCG, said of the apparent first connection between CBD and apelin.

The researchers explained that apelin is a pervasive peptide made by cells in the heart, lung, brain, fat tissue, and blood. It is an important regulator in bringing down both blood pressure and inflammation.

When blood pressure rises, apelin levels shoot up in the right place, like in endothelial cells that line the blood vessels. This further helps bring down the pressure.

One of the corresponding authors noted that apelin should do the same to help normalise the significant increases in inflammation in the lungs and related breathing difficulties associated with ARDS.

However, apelin, in the case of ARDS, did not increase in areas of the lungs where it’s needed to improve blood and oxygen flow to compensate. It rather decreased in both the lung tissue itself and the general circulation.

They found that apelin levels were significantly reduced in the mice that developed Covid-19-like symptoms compared to controls.

The researchers then induced CBD to make the apelin levels rise.

The treatment with CBD then normalised the immune response and apelin levels, along with oxygen levels and swelling and scarring in the lung’s characteristic of the deadly ARDS.

The researchers are still exploring the CBD-apelin connection that can be monumental for the treatment of Covid-19 patients. “It is an association; we don’t know yet about causative, but it is a very good indicator of the disease treatment,” Baban, one of the research correspondents, added.