Nancy Pelosi defends marijuana provisions in COVID-19 bill

House speaker Nancy Pelosi defended a provision of the Democratic coronavirus relief bill tied to marijuana on Friday, calling it “a therapy.”

“I don’t agree with you that cannabis is not related to this,” Pelosi said during a press briefing, according to The Hill. “This is a therapy that has proven successful.”

House Democrats passed their own $3 trillion stimulus bill, called the Heroes Act on May 15, but it never received a vote in the Senate, according to Forbes.

The provision would have allowed legal marijuana businesses to work with banking service , USA Today reported.

Cannabis businesses have been deemed “essential” during the pandemic but aren’t eligible for Small Business Administration loans, according to the National Cannabis Industry Association in a statement.

“Our industry employs hundreds of thousands of Americans and has been deemed ‘essential’ in most states. It’s critically important that essential cannabis workers are not exposed to unnecessary health risks due to outdated federal banking regulations,” executive director Aaron Smith said.

CBD may help treat lung inflammation

University of Nebraska and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute experts have recommended studying CBD as a treatment for lung inflammation caused by COVID-19, CBS News reported.

Emily Earlenbaugh, co-founder of Mindful Cannabis Consulting, told CBS that too many cytokines, cell-signaling molecules that help communicate in immune responses, can be result from severe cases of the coronavirus, leading to a “cytokine storm.”

“Cytokines will normally help to create inflammation to fight off infections,” Earlenbaugh said. “But in these extreme cases, you see so much cytokines being released into the system that it creates a cytokine storm. You might see high fever, inflammation, severe fatigue and nausea, and in serious cases, it can lead to death through organ failure.”

According to a study from Augusta University in Georgia, CBD may help reduce cytokine production.

Mice with cytokine storms were given CBD in the study, according to Forbes. “These symptoms were totally or partially reversed and returned to the level and condition of the normal after treatment with CBD,” the authors wrote.

Earlenbaugh told CBS she would “definitely express caution” in using cannabis as a COVID-19 treatment. “We’re pretty far away from human research that could really definitively answer those questions for us,” she said. “The other reason for caution is that cytokines are important in fighting off infections. So, we don’t want to reduce them as a preventative measure or in early stages of the infection.”

Smokers at greater risk

Experts have said that smoking and vaping could lead to higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, The Los Angeles Times reported.

“Being a current or former cigarette smoker may increase your risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” according to the CDC.

Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician in Boston, told The Los Angeles Times that he is telling marijuana users to switch to edibles or tinctures instead of smoking.

“Two packs of cigarettes a day is obviously worse than a puff of cannabis a month, but smoking anything can irritate the lining of your lungs,” Grinspoon said. “It just seems intuitively true that if you irritate the lining of your lungs, you set yourself up for trouble in a disease that happens to cause most of its mortality by attacking your lungs.”

More than 4.4 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed and more than 152,000 people have died from the virus in the U.S. as of July 31, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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Summer Lin is a McClatchy Real-Time News Reporter. She graduated from Columbia University School of Journalism and was previously a News and Politics Writer for Bustle News.