Can cannabis corral covid?
Is there nothing this plant can’t do?
Researchers at the University of Lethbridge in Canada say data they’ve been collecting over the past five years indicate some cannabis extracts may help prevent and treat Covid-19.
Olga and Igor Kovalchuk, both professors of biological sciences at the university, have been working with cannabis since 2015, using varieties from around the world to create new hybrids and develop extracts that demonstrate certain therapeutic properties. Igor says there’s plenty of data on the effect of cannabis on cancer, inflammation, anxiety, obesity and so forth.
Olga had the idea to revisit their data to see if it could be useful in dealing with Covid. She says they started to examine the special proteins, or receptors, the virus hijacks to enter the body, and they’ve now submitted a research paper on the effects of medicinal cannabis on Covid-19.
"We were totally stunned at first, and then we were really happy," says Olga.
Based on their preliminary data, the Kovalchuks argue anti-inflammatory high-CBD cannabis extracts can modulate the levels of the receptors in highly relevant tissues, such as the mouth, lungs and intestinal cells.
One of the receptors, known as ACE2, has now been shown to be a key gateway for the virus to enter the body. "The virus has the capacity to bind to it, and pull it into the cell, almost like a doorway," Olga says.
Other key receptors allow the virus to enter other cells more easily and multiply rapidly. But some cannabis extracts help reduce inflammation and slow down the virus. "Imagine a cell being a large building," says Igor. "Cannabinoids reduce the number of doors in the building by, say, 70 percent, so it means the level of entry will be restricted. So, therefore, you have more chance to fight it."
The initial findings suggest cannabis extracts could be used in inhalers, mouthwash and throat gargles to treat the virus both in the clinic and at home.
The Kovalchuks haven’t tested the effects of smoking cannabis and say their cannabis extracts aren’t commercially available anyway. "The key thing is that no cannabis you would pick up at the store will do the trick," says Olga.
Over the past five years, they have tested hundreds of extracts, but only a small percentage have proven effective. Those extracts contain high concentrations of CBD, but very low levels of THC, so users would not experience a 'high'. The Kovalchuks say it’s a completely natural product, with no side effects.
The research is in partnership with the University of Lethbridge, Pathway RX Inc. and Swysh Inc., two companies focused on researching and developing custom cannabis therapies. Many of the cannabis varieties have been patented to Pathway Rx’s partner Sundial Growers Inc., a licensed Canadian cannabis producer.
The Kovalchuks stress their data is based on human tissue models and the next step is to do clinical trials, something Igor says they are actively pursuing.