There is currently no verified treatment for the millions of COVID long-haulers around the world. But cannabis extracts are showing early promise.
Andrew Vass had been suffering the “torturous” effects of long COVID for about a year before his doctor gave him some weed. Specifically, an oil-form of medicinal cannabis containing 5 percent cannabidiol (CBD) and 0.2 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The effect, he says, was immediate.
Vass, a 42-year-old financial services worker from London, had only used cannabis twice in his life, and both times it gave him “outrageous” migraine headaches. He was desperate, but sceptical.
“It just wasn’t what I was expecting, and I never really considered it as a treatment,” he told VICE World News. “So [the doctor and I] spoke about it multiple times, and I think it was about the third time I eventually relented and said, ‘OK, fine, let’s try it.’”
Now he describes it as a “game changer.”
“Long COVID’s really cost me a lot in terms of what I want to do with myself,” he said. “[But] I never experienced any issues post the introduction of the pot. For me, it was a marker that allowed me to actually put all the physiological symptoms largely behind me and move on.”
Vass is one of the first people to have taken part in a pioneering trial in the UK examining the therapeutic benefits of medicinal cannabis for treating post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, or long COVID. It is one of a growing number of studies seeking to understand the effect of cannabis on the virus, with firm evidence of its efficacy still lacking.
The mechanism of long COVID—which is estimated to affect about 10 to 30 percent of people who become infected, tens of millions of individuals—remains unknown. The symptoms, for which there are currently no evidence-based treatment options, run the gamut of ongoing fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, muscle weakness, fever and cognitive dysfunction, or “brain fog.” Anyone experiencing such symptoms for longer than 12 weeks is considered a COVID “long-hauler.”
It was a month after being infected with the virus in March 2020 that Vass noticed he had ongoing respiratory issues, and another two months before he started suffering insomnia. He went from sleeping eight hours a night to no more than two. Then he developed acid reflux and started having asthma attacks.
Around September he started experiencing fasciculations—when a muscle spasms and contracts at random—and later that month he had his first post-viral crash.