Scientists in Brazil Are Studying the Impacts of Weed on Long Covid
The University of São Paulo is conducting a study that will put cannabidiol against the long-lasting symptoms of COVID-19, despite the president’s criticism of medicinal marijuana.
Published on September 29, 2021

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Brazilian scientists are taking on long Covid, a pernicious extension of coronavirus symptoms impacting a large swath of patients, with cannabidiol (CBD). According to Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo and English language publication The Rio Times, cardiologists from the Heart Institute of the University of São Paulo are in the third phase of an investigation looking at the effects of CBD on 1,000 people suffering from long Covid. 

The study is slated to begin next month, with assistance from Canadian-based cannabis company Verdemed.

Long Covid is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as severe or mild Covid symptoms that persist four weeks or more after infection. Common symptoms run the gamut of health conditions and include fatigue, shortness of breath or other cardiac pain, brain fog, impairment in taste or smell, mood changes, fever, difficulty sleeping, and joint pain. 

It’s not a small health issue. An alarming study published by Oxford University recently found that one-third of people who had Covid reported symptoms between three- to six- months after infection. The study looked at 274,000 US cases to arrive at its conclusion. The most commonly reported symptom was anxiety/depression (which admittedly, doesn’t need to be caused by long Covid, considering how turbulent the past 18 months have been.)

Brazil has struggled with its pandemic response, reporting 24,611 new Covid cases in a single day last week. The country generally has a Covid mortality rate that is four times higher than the world average.

The University of São Paulo’s study does not align with the agenda of President Jair Bolsonaro or his political allies, who continue to demonize medicinal cannabis and have a history of spouting anti-science rhetoric regarding coronavirus. In July, for instance, armed law enforcement raided the headquarters of a Rio de Janeiro cannabis cultivation advocacy organization. The government has no shame in squashing all helpful cannabis ventures.

Conservative backlash hasn’t completely hindered access to medical marijuana. Regulations around cannabis use were first approved by the country’s pharmaceutical regulatory agency in 2019, and in June of this year, lawmakers voted to authorize sales by licensed retailers. 

Scientists in the study are hoping the drug will prove useful in treating patients’ Covid symptoms, particularly weakness and fatigue, caused by an exaggerated autoimmune response called “cytokine storm,” which can lead to inflammation. 

A Canadian study that similarly examined cannabis’ effect on Covid-induced cytokine storms found that certain strains did reduce inflammatory distress.

“In clinical practice, we already know the anti-inflammatory effect of CBD,” said Dr. Paula Dall’Stella, a São Paulo medicinal marijuana pioneer, according to publication Istoe Dinheiro. “CBD can inhibit some of the same inflammatory pathways that Covid ends up acting on. But it is not only in the physical context, but also mental. Post-traumatic stress in these cases is common, with tachycardia, anxiety, recurrent memories of what happened in the hospital. CBD helps these people live healthier [and] helps the body function properly.”

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Caitlin Donohue
Caitlin Donohue is a Bay Area-raised, Mexico City-based cannabis writer and author of She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics and the World. Her weekly show Crónica on Radio Nopal explores Mexican marijuana culture and politics in the prohibition era. Follow Caitlin on IG @byrdwatch.
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