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Study Shows that THC May Be An Effective Treatment for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

September 22, 2020 in General News

A series of studies in which THC was used to treat mice with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) caused by Staphylococcal enterotoxin-B (SEB) demonstrated its efficacy in preventing fatal outcomes. The inhalation of this bacteria can cause ARDS by activating immune cells that go into overdrive, producing cytokine storm. THC may also treat ARDS that is caused by COVID-19. These findings were recently published in the British Journal of Pharmacology. In this article I will explain ARDS, cite the study and its findings and give a biography of the author.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) is a type of lung failure that can occur in COVID-19 patients. Small blood vessels in the lungs begin to leak fluid which blocks the air from entering the bloodstream. This deprives your other organs of the oxygen they need to function. ARDS typically occurs in people who are already critically ill or who have significant injuries. The main symptom of ARDS, severe shortness of breath, usually develops within a few hours to a few days after the onset of injury or infection.

Many people who develop ARDS don’t survive; the mortality rate is 43%. The risk of death increases with age and severity of illness. Of the people who do survive ARDS, some recover completely while others may experience lasting damage of long-term scarring to their lungs.

The paper, “Protective Effects of Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Against Enterotoxin-induced Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome is Mediated by Modulation of Microbiota,” was published by husband and wife Drs. Mitzi and Prakash Nagarkatti from The School of Medicine, Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology at the University of South Carolina. Their area of expertise has been the study of the use of plant compounds, including cannabis, to prevent and reduce inflammation.

What happens with ARDS, says Dr. Prakash Nagarkatti, “is that the underlying mechanism in your immune system goes haywire and starts destroying your lungs and all your other organs.”

Study Specifics

Staphylococcal enterotoxin-B (SEB) is one of the most potent and toxic bacterial superantigens* that causes cytokine storm. Upon inhalation of SEB, ARDS may occur, is often fatal and there is currently no effective treatment model.

*Superantigens are a type of antigens which can activate up to 25% of the body’s T-cells or immune cells which results in an enormous cytokine release. Here is the link to an article explaining cytokines and cytokine storm.

Experimental Approach

A mouse model of SEB-induced ARDS was used to test the effectiveness of THC. The mice were monitored for the following conditions:

  • Lung inflammation
  • Changes in the gut and lung microorganisms
  • Production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA)


The mortality rate of the mice, after being infected with SEB-induced ARDS, was 100%. When THC was injected into the mice, it was shown to protect them from dying from the syndrome. Dozens of experiments in three separate studies all yielded the same outcome; 100% of the mice who received THC survived. This was accomplished by changing the gut and lung microorganisms by increasing beneficial bacteria, Ruminococcus gnavus, while decreasing the toxic microorganism, Akkermansia muciniphila. THC was also shown to increase the production of SCFA which inhibits the inflammatory response.


This study indicates that the use of THC diminishes SEB-induced ARDS and its toxic effects by changing the microorganisms in the gut and lungs. This is due to the promotion of anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory pathways by THC.

While Dr. Nagarkatti was astonished by the efficacy of treating ARDS with THC, he wanted to make it clear that the results of laboratory studies with mice doesn’t necessary mean that they will yield similar results for humans. However, he feels that the mouse trials were so effective that he has recommended to health officials that they begin human trials with THC. Currently there is no medication to treat ARDS that is FDA-approved.

Finally, he does not want cannabis consumers to misinterpret the findings of his research in thinking that cannabis is a good treatment option for COVID-19. In fact, if THC is used too early, it may worsen the effect by suppressing the immune system. THC may be a good option if a patient develops ARDS as a COVID-19 side effect. However, it does not necessarily work for all cases of COVID-19.

The Nagarkatti Laboratory

The Nagarkattis have been studying the effects of the cannabinoids in cannabis for over 20 years. They have conducted breakthrough studies on cannabinoids which demonstrate their efficacy as anti-inflammatories. They have published many papers and reviews indicating that cannabis may be useful in treating a myriad of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases; MS, colitis, hepatitis, Lupus, and fibromyalgia. They were one of the first cannabis researcher teams to show that certain types of cancers respond to cannabinoid treatment.

They have received grants from the NIH, the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Cancer Society.

Biography of Study Author Dr. Prakash Nagarkatti

Dr. Prakash Nagarkatti hails from Dharwad Karnataka, India and is one of the foremost experts in the cannabis field. His current role is VP for research at the University of South Carolina (USC) School of Medicine.

  • Bachelor’s Degrees in Botany and Chemistry from Karnatak University, India
  • Master’s Degree in Microbiology from Karnatak University
  • Doctorate Degree in Immunology from Jiwaji University, India
  • Associate Dean of Research, USC School of Medicine, 2005
  • Vice President for Research, USC School of Medicine, 2011
  • Carolina Distinguished Professor
  • Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center of Research Excellence in Inflammatory and Autoimmune Diseases
  • Co-director along with his wife, Dr. Mitzi Nagarkatti, of NIH COBRE Center for Dietary Supplement and Inflammation
  • Oversees a yearly $255 million research organization which encompasses seven affiliate campuses
  • Promotes interdisciplinary research through the introduction of many original programs


medicalxpress, Researchers Reveal How THC May Treat Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Aug. 26, 2020, USC Researchers Think THC in Marijuana May Be Able To Treat Deadly COVID Complication, Lucas D Aprile, Aug. 31, 2020, Indian American Researcher Prakash Nagarkatti Tirelessly Working to Show Benefits of Medical Marijuana, Giovanni Albanese, Jan. 20, 2020, Protective Effects of Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Against Enterotoxin-induced Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome is Mediated by Modulation of Microbiota, Aug. 4, 2020

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