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Why Cytokine Storms Worsen COVID-19, and How CBD Can Help

Kamryn Troyer

Thursday Jul 30th, 2020

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As a cure for COVID-19 seems to perpetually reside just out of reach, two treatments showing positive results in clinical trials are Gilead’s remdesivir and a corticosteroid called dexamethasone.1 The latter works by suppressing immune function in COVID-19 patients experiencing severe inflammatory complications caused by what are known as “cytokine storms,” or an uncontrollable cascade of proinflammatory cytokine proteins.2 Now, a study being performed by two Israeli research and development companies suggests a mixture of CBD and terpenes could be at least two times more effective at reducing the inflammatory cytokine storms as dexamethasone.3

What is a “cytokine storm,” and how does it impact COVID-19?

Proinflammatory cytokines are proteins released by cells to increase inflammation in response to potential infection.2 Inflammation is the body’s natural immune response to prevent foreign substances from entering the bloodstream and is generally a good thing, but too much inflammation for a prolonged period of time can eventually damage healthy tissues and organs. Just like when a long-awaited rain becomes an uncontrollable storm that results in damaging floods, proinflammatory cytokines have a threshold of “good.”

Examples of risk factors that cause overactive immune systems, and thus excessive inflammation, include diets high in refined sugars and saturated fats, smoking, stress, and lack of sleep. In other words, a body that feels it is constantly under attack by unhealthy lifestyle factors will adapt by increasing inflammation. Then, when a serious infection like COVID-19 arrives, the body may overcompensate with an unregulated inflammatory response. Some evidence suggests COVID-19 patients who deteriorated suddenly and severely may have been suffering from excessive cytokine release which led to organ failure.4 This is not to say that a poor immune system is the reason for all serious COVID-19 infections, but it is likely a contributing factor in many cases.

What is the role of corticosteroids, and why is CBD being tested as an alternative?

pexels aphiwat chuangchoem 2178565 v2Corticosteroids decrease immune system functions and inflammation by mimicking a regulatory hormone called cortisol.5 CBD, which also decreases inflammation through the endocannabinoid system, has been studied as a natural alternative to steroids, offering the same benefits without adverse reactions. Naturally, the effectiveness of the corticosteroid dexamethasone in mitigating COVID-19-induced cytokine storms led researchers to ponder CBD as a potential COVID-19 treatment option.3

So, could CBD be a treatment for COVID-19?

While the study is in its early stages, Israeli research companies Eybna and CannaSoul Analytics report a combination of CBD and a formulation of 30 terpenes is at least twice as effective at inhibiting cytokine activity as dexamethasone.3 In fact, the CBD and terpenes mixture inhibited around 90% of tested cytokines with better results using higher doses of terpenes,3 hinting there is real power behind the entourage effect.

Recently, the COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel updated their official guidelines to recommend dexamethasone as a treatment for COVID-19 patients who require supplemental oxygen.6 Thus, the completion of the Israeli study could not only be critical for progressing COVID-19 treatment options, but also for one day supplementing or replacing corticosteroids for patients plagued with other severe infections.

*We at Farmulated CBD are excited for the potential CBD holds in treating COVID-19. Please note, however, that CBD is not an NIH-approved treatment for COVID-19 and you should always consult with a doctor on existing medical conditions before taking CBD.




  1. Beasley, D. (2020, June 26). Key U.S. medical group adds steroids to COVID-19 treatment guidelines. Retrieved August 05, 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-guidelines-steroid/key-u-s-medical-group-adds-steroids-to-covid-19-treatment-guidelines-idUSKBN23X2IE
  2. Zhang, J., & An, J. (2007). Cytokines, inflammation, and pain. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2785020/
  3. Earlenbaugh, E. (2020, August 03). New Research Suggests Terpenes And CBD Work 2X's Better For Covid-19 Inflammation Than Corticosteroid. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/emilyearlenbaugh/2020/07/21/new-research-suggests-terpenes-and-cbd-work-3xs-better-for-covid-19-inflammation-than-corticosteroid/
  4. Ye, Q., Wang, B., & Mao, J. (2020, June). The pathogenesis and treatment of the `Cytokine Storm' in COVID-19. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7194613/
  5. Corticosteroids (n.d.). Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/4812-corticosteroids
  6. What's new. (n.d.). Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://www.covid19treatmentguidelines.nih.gov/whats-new/

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