CBD Can’t Cure Or Prevent COVID-19, So Why Are Snake Oil Hemp Brands Claiming It Can?

Here’s the simple truth: there is absolutely zero evidence that CBD can cure or even help with the COVID-19 virus. There’s not even any proof it can help protect you from getting sick. So why are so many hemp brands claiming otherwise?

Obviously, there’s plenty of companies offering useful products and services during this unprecedented crisis, and some of them are profiting from it. Whether it’s Zoom offering vital video-conferencing tools, or hemp brands selling CBD oil that can help relieve some people’s anxiety or chronic pain, well-positioned companies profit from a crisis. That’s inevitable under our economic system, and it’s not what this editorial is about.

There’s no evidence that CBD can cure or stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Instead, we’re seeing brands try to capitalize on the fear and uncertainty of this pandemic by misrepresenting what CBD can do. At the Ministry of Hemp, we usually focus on the positive sides of the hemp industry. If a brand doesn’t meet our high standards, we typically simply don’t review them or partner with them on our site. But the current health crisis is different: Misinformation could cost people their lives. 

Let’s emphasize it again: There’s no evidence that CBD, in any form, can cure, prevent, or stop the spread of the new coronavirus. In addition, the idea of CBD “strengthening the immune system” is frequently misrepresented in order to sell hemp-based CBD products. Despite the lack of evidence that CBD can help directly in the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of CBD companies are making misleading claims anyway.

We understand that there’s a lot of hype around CBD. In addition, the marketplace is crowded and brands are struggling to stand out against more competition than ever before. That’s no excuse to let greed overcome your ethics. 

Claiming CBD can reduce spread of COVID-19 is irresponsible

On March 19, Forbes reported that hundreds of thousands of mobile phones were spammed with ads for irresponsible, unsubstantiated products that purportedly could cure or prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Photo: A fake Fox News webpage spammed to thousands of smartphones claims "one mom" has discovered CBD can cure COVID-19.
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Forbes reported that 10,000’s of smartphones received links to a fake Fox News website falsely claiming CBD can cure COVID-19. (Photo: Adaptivemobile, via Forbes)

Many of these ads led to a fake Fox News website purporting that “one mom” had “found a solution” to the new coronavirus. And that solution is CBD oil. Sorry, but even if you had 5 moms (or 500!) who believe this, it still wouldn’t be true.

Other hucksters take that indirect approach so beloved by dishonest marketers throughout history. They don’t come right out and claim that CBD can cure COVID-19. Instead, they make vague claims about the antibacterial, and antiviral properties of CBD. However you phrase it, it’s still snake oil.

Part of the problem here is greed, and the other part is scientific illiteracy. While hemp has antibacterial properties, it’s more that it can make hemp clothing less prone to smelling bad when it gets sweaty. And, remember, COVID-19 is caused by a virus, not bacteria.

There are intriguing possibilities for the use of cannabinoids in medicine, including as a solution to antibiotic resistant infections. But, that’s all theoretical. It’s in our future, if it ever pans out at all.

And currently, there’s absolutely no published, peer-reviewed research we’re aware of on CBD and COVID-19. In a health crisis, we need to stick to facts, not speculation. Even (especially) if we can make money off speculating. 

CBD-Infused Hand Sanitizer: Pandemic Products No One Needs

It’s become a bit of a joke on social media that people are stuffing CBD into absolutely everything, even hummus and pillows.

It’s not a joke that makes the CBD industry look good. CBD pillows don’t help us make our case that this is a genuinely beneficial supplement.

Now along come brands seeking to directly capitalise on COVID-19 induced shortages and fears. With products like CBD-infused hand sanitizer. Rumor has it, the CBD infused face masks and gloves are right around the corner.

Photo: Screenshot of a press release advertising a brand's new "CBD infused hand sanitizer."
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There’s no evidence CBD can help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but it might help sell overpriced hand sanitizer to scared people.

There’s no indication that CBD is doing anything here, despite the claims that “proprietary technology” makes the hand sanitizer offer “faster relief.” To us, this just seems like a way to charge $6 for a one ounce bottle of sanitizer with a few drops of CBD added. It’s a product that wouldn’t exist if there weren’t shortages of Purell.

Contrast this behavior with that of others who are stepping up to genuinely help. Cannabis brands in California and Massachusetts are now making, and donating hand sanitizer. Just hand sanitizer, no CBD.

If you have the resources to make protective supplies or equipment for our healthcare workers and other vulnerable people, please do so. And leave the cannabinoid hype at home.

Can CBD “boost” or “balance” the immune system?

Right now there’s a booming business being done in herbal or nutritional supplements that are meant to “boost” or “balance” your immune system. That includes CBD.

Unfortunately, the reality is that there’s no simple way to strengthen our immune system, nor any magic bullet that can bring it back into balance.

Photo: Screenshot of an Instagram post, where a company claims CBD could prevent the spread of a virus like the one which causes COVID-19.
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Despite what this company claims, there’s no evidence that any properties of CBD actually make you safer from the COVID-19 virus.

Let’s talk science for a moment. CBD and the other natural “cannabinoids” found in hemp and cannabis work by mimicking compounds normally found in our bodies. Those chemicals made by our bodies are called “endogenous cannabinoids,” because endogenous means, roughly, “from the body.” When we take CBD, it interacts with our natural “endocannabinoid system”, a series of receptors in our nervous system found throughout the body. And we know that this system does interact with the immune system.

Beyond that, our knowledge of the endocannabinoid system is very limited. Decades of drug prohibition made it extremely difficult for researchers to study how our body interacts with these chemicals. Once again, we simply have no evidence that CBD’s effect on our body can do anything to help us fight off COVID-19. In fact, at least one study suggests that cannabinoids could harm the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses, in some cases.

That doesn’t mean quit taking CBD until the COVID-19 crisis ends (unless your doctor tells you to do so, of course). It just means we need more research before making any claims. 

The myth of immune system ‘boosting’

The idea that we can take herbs to “boost” our immune system is a bit of a myth, according to Self Magazine. “For starters,” noted Carolyn L. Todd on March 23, “your immune system isn’t one single thing that we can pump up on demand—it’s a highly evolved, complicated system.” You should read the whole article, because she goes into a lot of detail, and interviews actual experts on the immune system.

Your immune system isn’t one single thing that we can pump up on demand.

Carolyn L. Todd, Self Magazine

In some cases, an overactive immune system can lead to health problems, even the dreaded “cytokine storm” that is deadly during some illnesses, including potentially the new coronavirus.

According to the experts Todd consulted, the only thing that can help make your immune system better able to fight off illness are “basic healthy habits” like “eating well, sleeping seven to nine hours every night, getting moderate exercise, and managing your stress levels.”

So if CBD helps you sleep better, recover from exercise faster, or feel less stressed, great! But the hemp industry should stop making unsupported claims about CBD and the immune system.

What CBD consumers & brands can do during COVID-19 crisis

When millions of lives are at stake, seemingly insignificant claims can become very serious. Giving people a false sense of security, or leading them to believe that a nutritional supplement will prevent them from catching the COVID-19 virus, could have deadly consequences during this pandemic.

We decided to close out this editorial with some tips for CBD buyers, and advice for CBD brands.

Stay as safe as you can and let’s all do what we can to protect each other.

Advice for CBD buyers

Use caution when buying CBD, now just as any day. Make sure you do your research to help you identify quality CBD brands. During the pandemic, you can add another factor to your selection process:

Don’t buy CBD from brands that make health claims about COVID-19 or the immune system.

Remember, CBD can help a lot of people with anxiety, insomnia, and other symptoms of isolation and a very stressful time. But claiming CBD can help directly with COVID-19 is simply inaccurate based on our current knowledge.

If you do see brands making outlandish claims about CBD during the pandemic, send us an email. We’ll make a list of some of the worst offenders we hear about here.

How CBD brands can help during the pandemic

Just as we want everyone to act responsibly by washing their hands and practicing social distancing, we want hemp brands to act responsibly too. How can they do that?

By being honest about what CBD can (and cannot do) to alleviate suffering in this time. By taking care of their employees as best they can, and donating supplies and money whenever possible.

To the extent that CBD and other cannabinoids can help, make sure you’re making your products accessible to people who are losing income. If you work for a hemp brand, consider launching a CBD assistance program. If you already have one, consider whether you can make more people eligible or give bigger discounts for a while.

We get it: these are scary and uncertain times. You’re trying to make a profit, while facing the prospect of profound disruption to our economy.

If the hemp industry wants to be a leader at sustainability, as we often claim, now is the perfect time to prove it. We must put people over profits, and humanity over economic growth.

Ultimately, we believe that has to be more important than any quick profits based on fear and lies.  

Kit O'Connell is an Editor of Ministry of Hemp. His writing has also appeared at The Establishment, Firedoglake, YES! Magazine, the Texas Observer and Truthout.

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Latest Comments
  • Zivile Du Preez says:

    Thank you Kit O’Connell!
    I am big fan of Cannabis plant.
    Hemp plants I am growing and believe the oil is best to use for insomnia and depression.
    Is no better medicine .
    Please can you suggest for my daughter, who stay in Stockholm, which brand to buy.
    She purchased some American brand, but is not work.
    Just , I thing ,normal hemp seed oil cold pressed at all.
    Let me hear your opinion.

    Kind regards
    Zivile Du Preez

  • John R Williams says:

    Legalize now!

  • Era Peek Flowers says:

    Hi Thank You For your e-mail!
    I am an elderly using CBD for alergies and other things so is it possible for you to send a list off pure CBD / IF so it would be greatly apprechid !

  • Jeff says:

    Your statement about there is no “proven” way to boost the immune system is Big Pharma propaganda. Vitamin C has been shown in numerous studies to have anti-viral properties and the reason it is ignored is because it does not promote the use of drugs. Pharma is the top lobbyist in D.C. and is the top advertiser in most media, do you actually think they don’t have influence on content? Go to orthomolecular.org and scroll down to press releases on use of vitamin C to cure covid-19 in China and other places. Why have you not heard about this here? Because they are wanting to get a vaccine and make it mandatory for every one.

  • Jen says:

    Studies have shown that CBD has anti-viral properties, which is something people are naturally interested in at this time. You were so lost in self-righteousness, you forgot to actually look at the research.

  • Jason cohen says:

    Very well written Kit, thank you! It’s been very concerning seeing some of the wild claims out there. I recently wrote a similar article trying to dispel some of the myths and false statements about CBD and COVID-19, our any virus for that matter.

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