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Postcovid syndrome: Will CBD relieve pain, insomnia and anxiety?

What is postcovid syndrome/long covid?

According to the World Health Organization, post-covid syndrome (also referred to as post-covid, long covid or post-acute covid-19 syndrome) is defined as "the continuation or development of new symptoms 3 months after SARS-CoV-2 infection, with symptoms lasting at least 2 months and no other explanation".

Patients with comorbidities, obese individuals, adults over 50 years of age, especially those over 85 years of age, and patients who had to be hospitalized during the illness are most likely to develop post-covid syndrome. However, even individuals with a mild course of covid-19 may continue to experience symptoms after recovery.

Symptoms of postcovid syndrome

It turns out that the five most common symptoms of postcovid syndrome (long cavity) are fatigue (58%), headache (44%), attention/cognitive impairment (27%), hair loss (25%) and shortness of breath (24%).

Other commonly reported symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Muscle or head pain
  • Anxiety, depression
  • Chest pain
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Sleep disorders
  • Deterioration or loss of sense of smell and taste
  • Brain fog

Symptoms may persist for weeks, months or years after the infection has resolved. Sometimes they may disappear and reappear after some time.

Why some patients are affected by post-covid syndrome and others are not is still a matter of research.

You can still get post-accidental syndrome even if you have been vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, but the likelihood is much lower (more than 50% after the second dose of the vaccine) than in unvaccinated individuals. Occasionally, however, symptoms of postcovirus syndrome have also occurred as a result of vaccination.

In very rare cases, a sepsis-like hyperinflammatory syndrome (multisystem inflammatory syndrome, MIS) leading to severe, life-threatening secondary multiorgan dysfunction has been observed after acute covid-19 infection in children and adults. The main accompanying symptoms of this inflammatory syndrome are fever, increased coagulopathy and involvement of the heart and other organs. At present, it is not known exactly what causes MIS and how it might be prevented.

 

A young man sits at a computer wearing a protective mask and coughing into his elbow

What is the cause of long covid?

Although scientists don't yet know for sure what causes the long covid, research so far has already shown something. The underlying pathophysiological cause is thought to be inflammation. Let's break this cause down a bit to better understand the potential of cannabinoids, such as CBD, in relieving symptoms.

SARS-CoV-2 infection suppresses innate antiviral mechanisms. Once the virus infects the body, the immune system begins to respond by releasing cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that serve as signaling molecules in the immune system and help control the body's inflammatory response. In covid-19 disease, excessive cytokine production can occur, a phenomenon known as a "cytokine storm." And it is this condition that can cause a severe inflammatory response that damages tissues and organs.

Persistent inflammatory cytokines may play a role in many of the symptoms of long covid, including chronic fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, joint and muscle pain, and more. Study results suggest the efficacy of cannabinoids in mitigating cytokine storms and reducing the infiltration of inflammatory cells.

Potential of cannabinoids in the treatment of long cavid

The fundamental task of medicine is to find and explore appropriate treatments, as effective treatments are still lacking. The use of cannabis-based medicines is gaining increasing attention.

A study published in the December 2023 issue of the scientific journal Clinical Medicine reports that following SARS-CoV-2 infection, cannabinoids have shown promise in treating symptoms associated with post-acute long covid-19, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, pain, and decreased appetite.

CBD and post-covid depression

Depressive symptoms and clinical depression occur in people suffering from post-covid syndrome. The prevalence of depressive symptoms in the United States increased more than threefold during the covid-19 pandemic compared with previous years.

A 2020 study reported that the incidence of mood disturbances in the 14-90 day period after covid-19 infection was significantly higher compared to the following health events: influenza, other respiratory tract infection, skin infection, gallstones, urinary stones, and fracture of large bones.

How much do we know about the effect of CBD on depression?

Preclinical studies have revealed antidepressant responses to cannabis in animal models in behavioural tests, specifically forced swimming and tail-hooking. In testing, researchers have found that when an animal is exposed to a stressful and unavoidable situation, it first tries to escape but eventually stops moving and struggling, which is (may be) considered a reflection of desperate behavior.

  • A 2010 study found that rats treated with 30 mg/kg of CBD experienced a reduction in immobility time and an increase in swimming time compared to the untreated group.
  • In 2021, research showed that CBD administration produced antidepressant-like effects in mice in a tail-hook test. Interestingly, however, significant effects were only observed in male mice, not females.

Also, some other research and questionnaire surveys on a small sample of patients suggest that orally administered CBD could be a potential therapy for the treatment of anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders. However, the efficacy of CBD to reduce depressive symptoms has been assessed particularly in patients with chronic pain or cannabis users.

Thus, although observational studies suggest that medical cannabis or cannabis-based medicines may reduce depressive symptoms, no clinical trials to date have evaluated the efficacy of cannabinoids in the treatment of post-covid depression.

CBD and post-covid anxiety

Anxiety and mood disorders are also frequently reported in patients with post-covid syndrome, even several months after the disease. The endocannabinoid system plays a crucial role in emotional reactions, including reactions to stress, anxiety or fear. And because CBD interacts with endocannabinoid receptors CB1, CB2 and stimulates serotonin receptors (5HT1A), it has the potential to help with anxiety and stress, as confirmed by several preclinical and animal studies.

In 2021, a study was published that looked directly at whether CBD could be a treatment for anxiety disorders associated with covid-19. The study's authors also drew on previously conducted preclinical and clinical research and causal studies, and concluded by suggesting that CBD could alleviate anxiety, help with sleep disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder due to its purported anxiolytic properties.

CBD and post-covid insomnia

In a one-year cohort study, 52% of patients experienced fatigue and 47% experienced sleep disturbance after cure from covid-19.

Can CBD help with insomnia?

In 2019, a study was published on a sample of 72 patients who took CBD oil in capsule form. In 66.7% of them, CBD improved sleep quality.

A 2006 study that examined the effect of CBD in animal models concluded that CBD administration increased total sleep time. There is also talk that CBD has the potential to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. However, there is as yet no detailed research looking specifically at insomnia in patients with post-covid syndrome.

 

A middle-aged woman is lying on a pillow and has a distressed expression because she is suffering from insomnia

CBD and pain as a consequence of covid

Pain is often reported as a persistent symptom in patients suffering from post-covid syndrome. This may include back, joint, abdominal or chest pain. The body responds to the infection with pain and inflammation.

Research suggests that certain compounds from cannabis, such as CBD or THC (or combinations thereof), may have analgesic properties. Cannabinoids bind to or modulate receptors in the endocannabinoid system, which plays a key role in pain processing.

It appears that CBD could be effective in treating various types of pain, including neuropathic pain, pain caused by inflammation, migraines, and muscle and joint pain.

CBD is considered safe and has few side effects, unlike some conventional analgesics which can have more pronounced side effects. This suggests that it could be a hope for patients suffering from pain as a result of having undergone covid-19 infection. Again, however, more detailed research in a large enough sample of patients is needed first.

Post-covid syndrome: Can CBD help me?

Research on CBD in the context of post-covid syndrome is still at an early stage and there is no clear evidence of its effectiveness for all patients or all symptoms associated with this condition.

Only a handful of studies have so far focused on the role of cannabinoids in the treatment of covid-19 or long covid. Further research is needed to fully understand the efficacy and safety of cannabis-based medicines in the context of covid.

CBD is a non-psychoactive compound and side effects are rare. However, possible drug interactions must also be taken into account.

You can find a large number of CBD products on the market today:

The products differ in composition, concentration and, of course, the way they are used.

We can't yet answer whether CBD will help you or your loved ones to alleviate post-covid syndrome. In any case, if you are experiencing health problems and believe that they are the result of covid-19, you should always contact your doctor in the first instance, who will examine you and suggest an appropriate course of treatment or refer you to another specialist.

CBD could help with some symptoms such as inflammation, pain or insomnia, but we don't yet have the necessary evidence for this and it is also important to remember that many factors influence a patient's response to cannabinoids, such as age, metabolism, medical condition or genetics.

 

CBD products like oils, capsules and flowers that could help with post-covid syndrome

Conclusion

Post-covid syndrome, known as long covid, is the result of a covid-19 viral infection and can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms, such as shortness of breath, impaired sense of smell and/or taste, pain, anxiety or insomnia. CBD has the potential to alleviate some of these symptoms, as suggested by scientific studies and often by users themselves. However, it is worth pointing out that little research has yet focused on cannabinoids in the context of covid-19. Long-term, double-blind, randomised clinical trials are lacking to develop targeted treatments.

If you decide to try a CBD product, choose a reliable manufacturer/vendor that has their products tested by an independent lab. Start with a low dose and watch how your body reacts. Also watch for possible interactions with commonly used medications.

Above all, don't underestimate your health condition and if you are struggling with post-covid syndrome, contact your doctor.

 

Author: Michaela Mádlová

 

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Photo: Shutterstock

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