UK researchers publish first findings on cannabis and Long COVID

New UK research is said to lay the foundations for further exploration of cannabis as a potential treatment for Long COVID.

Researchers at Drug Science have published the findings from a world-first trial examining the potential of cannabis to manage the debilitating symptoms of Long Covid.

Long COVID, a condition characterised by persistent symptoms following a COVID-19 infection, continues to affect the lives of millions of people, presenting a significant challenge for both patients and healthcare providers. 

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), an estimated 2 million people in the UK were experiencing self-reported Long COVID in January 2023, with symptoms found to adversely affect the day-to-day activities of 1.5 million of those.

Many of the symptoms, including fatigue, difficulty concentrating and pain, as well as sleep disturbances, anxiety and depression, also occur in other conditions that can be managed with cannabis-based medicines. 

A review of the existing research published by the same researchers at Drug Science last year identified ‘multiple lines of evidence’ to support the use of cannabis-based medicines in Long COVID.

The preliminary study, which was sponsored by Australian pharmaceutical company, Bod Healthcare, investigated the safety and tolerability of its MediCabilis 5% CBD Oil, a full-spectrum cannabidiol (CBD)-dominant cannabis-based medicinal product (CBMP), in treating Long COVID symptoms.

A 21-week single-arm open-label feasibility trial was conducted in 12 participants diagnosed with Long COVID. Participants received up to 3 mL of MediCabilis 5% CBD Oil per day for up to 5 months, followed by a dose reduction in the final month. 

Questionnaires assessing aspects of health and daily self-reports of symptoms were collected via the Eva app from Research Smart (previously Alta Flora). A Fitbit was also used to record key physiological measures such as heart rate, activity, sleep, and oxygen saturation.

According to the findings, no participants reported any serious adverse events, with the drug demonstrating safety and good tolerability. 

This preliminary study suggests that CBD-dominant CBMPs are safe and well-tolerated in individuals diagnosed with Long COVID.

The authors conclude: “The study drug was safe and well-tolerated, demonstrating feasibility of CBD-dominant cannabis-based medicinal products in individuals diagnosed with long COVID. However, there were limitations in research design related to recruitment strategy demonstrating a lack of feasibility in the approach implemented in this study. Future work with larger samples and incorporating a control group are required to test the efficacy of this treatment.”

Despite these limitations, the researchers believe the findings, alongside the accumulating evidence on the effectiveness of cannabis for alleviating symptoms characteristic of those experienced during Long COVID, ‘lay the foundations’ for future research into its potential benefits in this condition.

Drug Science CEO and head of research, Dr Anne Schlag, commented: “This is an exciting feasibility study showing both safety and tolerability of CBD dominant medical cannabis for the treatment of Long COVID – offering a potential new avenue to treat this challenging and still insufficiently understood condition. 

“With our recently launched Drug Science Consultancy, we are looking forward to conducting more innovative research on medical cannabis to further develop the scientific evidence base, and ultimately, ensure that this medicine can be accessed by all patients who need it.”

Watch co-author of the study, Dr Hannah Thurgur, discuss these findings in more detail at Cannabis Europa 2023.

 

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