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Cannabis For Cold & Flu: Can Weed Help Fight The Common Cold?

As research has started to show, cannabis produces a variety of cannabinoids and other compounds with therapeutic potential. But are they able to help alleviate cold and flu symptoms? We can’t say for certain, but the current studies out there look promising.

The common cold and flu can spread through an office or campus like wildfire. Sit next to the wrong person, and you could find yourself coming down with something the next day. Sure, minor colds might give you a stuffy nose for a few days. At the same time, if you get a bad case of the flu, it can knock you down for a couple of weeks.

Now, most people reach for acetaminophen and copious amounts of tea when feeling under the weather. Those are all great, but there might be other (read: more fun) options to help take the edge off. What’s better, those options come in the form of delightful cannabis buds.

WHAT CAUSES THE COMMON COLD?

Over 200 different viruses can cause symptoms of the common cold. Sure, old wives tales blame chilly weather as the culprit, but the condition could actually be underpinned by hundreds of different microbes.

People come down with symptoms of the common cold after breathing in viral particles. These pathogens usually enter your lungs after you’ve been near someone coughing, sneezing, or simply breathing. You’re also vulnerable if you touch a contaminated surface and wipe your mouth/pick your nose without washing your hands.

The common cold can strike at any time, but infection rates increase dramatically during autumn and winter. The lack of humidity during these months causes the nasal passages to become dry, contributing to infection. The start of the academic year also means there are more people in close proximity, which helps cold viruses spread.

Several risk factors also increase a person’s chances of catching a cold. These include:

• Being young or old: The youngest and oldest people are most at-risk for serious cases
• Having a compromised immune system
• Being a frequent smoker

HOW COMMON COLDS AFFECT THE BODY

Colds viruses, right off the bat, cause upper respiratory infections. When viral particles first enter the airways, your immune system rises to the occasion.

White blood cells will first differentiate between foreign pathogens and the body’s own cells. Once they identify the enemy, these white blood cells—including leukocytes and natural killer cells—being to wage war.

Soon after, the adaptive immune system kicks in. White blood cells manufacture antibodies specifically designed to combat the new pathogen. These proteins mean the body can defend itself against future infections by the same pathogen.

You’ll experience many physical symptoms during this microscopic war. These usually include:

• Stuffy nose
• Sneezing
• Hoarseness
• Cough
• Earache
• Low-grade fever
• Fatigue

Most people recover before anything else happens. It doesn’t fade as easily for everyone, though. Symptoms of an advanced cold include:

• Ear infection
• Sinusitis
• Strep throat
• Chest infection

CAN CANNABIS HELP RELIEVE COMMON COLD SYMPTOMS?

No cure exists for the cold. You simply need to endure it until the body defeats the pathogen. However, conventional approaches like painkillers and decongestants are designed to reduce symptoms. Alternative treatments such as zinc, vitamin C, and other herbal remedies also appear to help.

Cannabis, as it turns out, might belong in the latter category. Humans have used the herb to address many different ailments for thousands of years. Sceptical of ancient practices, though? Modern scientific analysis has also shown that many of the phytochemicals in cannabis possess therapeutic potential.

That being said, little to no evidence exists that cannabis can alleviate the common cold. No human trials have demonstrated if the herb helps or hurts the body as it works to kill the virus. However, certain chemicals within the plant show the potential to help tackle some of the symptoms.

INFLAMMATION

All of the symptoms of the common cold stem from inflammation [1] . Your immune system—not the pathogen—underpins symptoms such as a sore throat and runny nose. The body instigates an inflammatory response for a key reason: to allow white blood cells easier passage through the tissues to reach the site of infection.

Although inflammation serves a purpose, it can lead to uncomfortable sensations. Hence, anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs are often advised to reduce cold symptoms. As it happens, cannabis also produces molecules with anti-inflammatory potential.

Research published in the European Journal of Pharmacology [2] in 2019 tested the effects of CBD on airway inflammation in mice with asthma. After administering CBD, they found the cannabinoid to not only decrease inflammation symptoms, but to improve their airway remodelling processes. CBD was believed to exert these immunomodulatory effects via signalling of CB1 and CB2 receptors.

Previous research published in 2015 [3] found CBD to improve lung function and inflammation in mice. Additional research published in Immunopharmacology [4] examined the effects of THC and CBD on cytokine production in human immune cells. Cytokines are signalling molecules used to drive inflammatory responses. Fortunately, both THC and CBD were observed to strongly inhibit cytokine production.

Along with inflammation, CBD may help to reduce cold and flu-related pain. For example, a 2007 study [5] found CBD to act as an orally effective therapeutic agent for chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain in mice.

However, it might work better for pain when taken alongside THC. Researchers found that CBD enhanced [6] and prolonged THC’s pain-reducing effects when the two cannabinoids were given to mice in combination.

Neither of these studies say anything about how these treatments will work for humans. Considering that, though, they’re promising starting points for future research.

POOR-QUALITY SLEEP

Lack of sleep seriously disturbs immune function. In fact, people who are sleep deprived are more likely to get sick [7] after being exposed to a common cold virus. In turn, getting a good amount of sleep while sick can also change how fast your body recovers.

Adding another potential benefit to the checklist, studies suggest that CBD may help people fall asleep [8] and stay asleep. Researchers believe these effects are partly caused by a reduction in anxiety that otherwise keeps people awake.

THC may also help to decrease the amount of time [9] it takes to fall asleep. However, heavy and long-term use appears to actually decrease sleep quality [10] by reducing REM sleep.

Many cannabis strains also produce high levels of the terpene myrcene. The molecule displays soporific effects, with research [11] showing it to enhance muscle relaxation and increase sleep time in mice.

DOES SMOKING CANNABIS MAKE A COLD OR FLU WORSE?

So far, we’ve been making a good case for cannabinoids. The act of smoking, however, is another issue.

Of course, letting carcinogenic compounds into your airways when you have a respiratory illness won’t do your body any favours. No evidence suggests that doing so will make your condition worse, but it makes sense to avoid it. Harsh smoke might exacerbate an already sore and dry throat, ultimately making those symptoms worse.

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO USE CANNABIS FOR THE COMMON COLD?

Thankfully, you can consume cannabis in many different ways. Even better, most of them don’t involve passing hot smoke down your sore, cold-ridden throat.

MAKE YOUR OWN CANNABIS TEA

A warm cup of tea does wonders to lift the spirits when you’re cold-stricken. In turn, adding a touch of cannabis to the mix might be just what you need to ease your symptoms. Cannabis tea allows users to avoid inhaling anything, and it produces more intense effects than smoking. Use our simple recipe to brew up a batch next time you start feeling a cold coming on.

CANNABIS TOPICALS

The common cold often causes fatigue and aching muscles. It just so happens that topical CBD can potentially help stave off these issues. Since you’re applying it directly to the skin as a gel, lotion, or balm, it’s able to more directly target the source of the issue.

CANNABIS EDIBLES

Edibles allow users to bypass smoking, sending cannabinoids directly through the GI tract and into the bloodstream. Edibles take longer to set in due to their extended metabolic pathway, but the effects are often much more pronounced. You can even make cannabutter at home to infuse your favourite dish with high levels of THC, CBD, or both.

VAPING

Unlike smoking, vaping’s low temperatures preserve every cannabinoid in the bud or concentrate. By only heating a bit past the decarboxylation point, the cannabinoids and terpenes can be vaporized without burning plant matter. This lack of combustion makes inhaling cannabinoids much less harsh on the throat.

DOES CBD OIL HELP WITH THE COMMON COLD?

Well, we don’t have any evidence that CBD oil will help cure your cold. However, the studies we covered above suggest that the cannabinoid might help relieve some of the symptoms. High-quality, full-spectrum CBD oils also bring lots of synergistic cannabinoids and terpenes in tow, many of which could potentially offer further symptom relief.

SHOULD YOU USE CANNABIS IF YOU HAVE A COLD OR FLU?

The jury is still out. Really, it depends on the individual. The only way to truly know if it works for you is to give it a go. Carefully dose out your cannabinoids as your immune system gets to work, and pay attention to see if your symptoms begin to reduce.

Humans have used cannabis for holistic purposes for thousands of years, but could it possibly help with one of the most common health issues out there?

Should You Take CBD Oil When You Have the Flu?

Is CBD a potential support if you have the flu? Image Credit: By Orawan Pattarawimonchai on shutterstock.

Every family has their own time-honored methods for dealing with the dreaded flu, from chicken soup and Sprite to herbal tea and essential oils. Typically, these “treatments” don’t make things worse — but they don’t always help as much as we’d like. That’s why a growing number of people are wondering if CBD (the versatile, non-intoxicating cannabis compound that’s taken the world by storm lately) might provide a more effective solution.

It’s not hard to see the appeal of this highly accessible over-the-counter (albeit expensive) remedy. But does it actually work?

What Is “the Flu,” Exactly?

Known in scientific circles as influenza, the flu is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. Most people recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some will develop complications which can lead to hospitalization or even death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the number of U.S. flu cases each year in the tens of millions, hospitalizations in the hundreds of thousands, and deaths in the tens of thousands.

The flu usually comes on suddenly, as opposed to colds, which come on gradually. People with the flu will have some or all of the following symptoms:

  • fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle or body aches
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)

The chances of catching the flu gradually fall as people age, but older adults are at greater risk of life-threatening complications.

What Does the Research Say About CBD and Flu Symptoms?

CBD has been shown in animal studies to have immunosuppressive qualities — one of the reasons it’s believed by some researchers to be effective against inflammation and in the treatment of autoimmune diseases is due to its ability to induce cell death in immune cells. However, other studies have shown that it has an immune boosting function in some cases, and does things like increase white blood cell counts in immunodeficiency disorders such as HIV.

The picture grows even more complicated when we consider the theoretical role of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the immune system. Researchers believe CBD can “enhance” the ECS by interacting with cannabinoid receptors throughout the body — which could help the ECS regulate all bodily systems, including the immune system. The cell death that CBD induces in immune cells is also part of a properly functioning immune system.

But most people with the flu take CBD for its more tangible effects on pain and soreness, headaches, and nausea. While there aren’t any published clinical trials on CBD and pain, ongoing preclinical studies in animals show that CBD reduces pain and inflammation, and studies of CBD in humans provide evidence that it is well-tolerated and has few negative side effects.

“There are also observational studies that ask why people use CBD and if it’s effective, and results tend to be quite positive,” as Kevin Boehnke, Ph.D., a research investigator at Michigan Medicine Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, told the Michigan Medicine blog. “People report using CBD for anxiety, pain, sleep — all things that go hand-in-hand with chronic pain.”

What about CBD’s effects on headaches? Though there have been no studies on pure CBD’s anti-headache effects, it has shown promise in the treatment of migraines, as detailed in a 2017 review in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. In addition, its hypotensive effects in lowering blood pressure suggest it might have headache-calming effects.

When it comes to nausea and vomiting — some of the flu’s most common and least pleasant symptoms — CBD has also shown promise. A 2011 study in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that the cannabinoid could help regulate nausea and vomiting within a limited dose range.

What Are the Most Effective Ways to Take CBD?

The most effective CBD delivery methods vary on a case-to-case basis. If you have a cough, inhaled CBD may not be the way to go. If you have nausea, skip the oral route. If you feel like you’re never going to get over the flu, you may want to avoid CBD altogether — its not-totally-known effect on the immune system may usher in a relapse.

However, these immunosuppressive qualities could come in handy when battling a fever or runny nose. These are both immune responses to the flu virus.

There are also products made specifically for cold-and-flu symptoms, like CBD saline nasal sprays created for the express purpose of unblocking a nostril or two.

Are There Any Potential Downsides to Using CBD When You Have the Flu?

CBD’s action on the immune system hasn’t been studied sufficiently to this point, and its potential effects on the flu, where immunity figures in so heavily, are hard to predict.

Also, since there are still no federal regulations governing CBD, contaminated products are unfortunately common. Common contaminants include pesticides, heavy metals, and even organisms like salmonella — none of which are particularly helpful in getting over the flu.

With that in mind, if you’re interested in using a CBD product while you have the flu, make sure it’s been tested by an independent third-party laboratory. And before you fork over your money, ask your doctor about potential interactions with other medications — while CBD is generally recognized as safe by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other respected institutions, it’s best to play it safe.

If you've ever had the flu, you know how miserable its symptoms can be. Could CBD help speed your recovery? ]]>