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Researchers in Canada are looking into the possibility that cannabis may be used to prevent COVID-19. Olga and Igor Kovalchuck have been developing a cannabis strain for cancer and inflammation for years. In light of the current health crisis, the duo has turned their attention to working on a marijuana strain that could potentially be used to battle COVID-19.
Meeting the Urgent Need for New Therapies
Researchers from the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada sought to study new therapies and prevention strategies to minimize the spread of coronavirus and reduce mortality. The results were published in the April issue of the journal Preprints. Researchers chose to focus on “inhibition of viral entry” to manage the spread of the virus.
“Similar to other respiratory pathogens, SARS-CoV2 is transmitted through respiratory droplets, with potential for aerosol and contact spread. It uses receptor-mediated entry into the human host via angiotensin-converting enzyme II (ACE2) that is expressed in lung tissue. As well as oral and nasal mucosa, kidney, testes, and the gastrointestinal tract,” said researchers.
“Modulation of ACE2 levels in these gateway tissues may prove a plausible strategy for decreasing disease susceptibility,” researchers continued. The duo determined that the cannabis strains they’d been working on could be used to block COVID-19 from entering the human body in the first place.
High-CBD Cannabis sativa strains they developed were suggested to feature anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory characteristics. The pair of researchers have developed 800 new strains and extracts under a Health Canada research license. They hypothesized that high-CBD strains could modulate ACE2 expression in tissues affected by COVID-19.
Materials and Methods
Researchers screened cannabis strains using “artificial human 3D models of oral, airway, and intestinal tissues” purchased from Mattek Life Sciences. RNA was extracted, purified, and analyzed from two tissues per group. Researchers identified 13 high CBD strains that modulate ACE2 gene expression and ACE2 protein levels.
According to researchers, some high-CBD strains “down-regulate serine protease TMPRSS2, another critical protein required for SARS-CoV2 entry into host cells.” Further research is required to determine a strain’s effects on a larger scale. Researchers believe extracts could be used to develop inhalants, mouthwash, and throat gargle products for clinical and at-home use.
Igor Kovalchuck said, “Imagine a cell is a large building. Cannabinoids reduce the number of doors in the building by approximately 70 percent, which means that access is severely limited. So you have a better likelihood of fighting with [COVID-19].”
The pair of researchers focused on marijuana strains with high CBD because they believe people will be able to handle higher doses without experiencing the psychoactive and impairing effects of THC. CBD elicits more calm and clear-headed effects.
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While the research shows high-CBD cannabis strains are responsible for a decrease in ACE2 protein levels, researchers don’t believe CBD alone is responsible for the modulation. In reality, the effects are likely due to the full-spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes found in strains. Future research will focus on a broader spectrum of cannabinoids.
Worldwide Cannabis Research
Canada isn’t the only place cannabis research is being performed to determine cannabis’s effects against the novel coronavirus. Israeli researchers have started clinical trials of CBD as a treatment to repair cells damaged by COVID-19.
Researchers hope to deliver the CBD-loaded exosomes via inhalation, which in turn could produce anti-inflammatory effects in the infected lungs. Another Israeli study aims to use CBD along with corticosteroids to treat those with COVID-19. A preliminary study on 10 patients with coronavirus is underway.
In Philadelphia, FSD Pharma has been approved to begin a clinical trial to test the effects of synthetic cannabinoids on the treatment of COVID-19. FSD plans to use micro PEA, an anti-inflammatory nutraceutical used to treat influenza and the common cold, to treat coronavirus.
Additionally, a marijuana research company called Cannasoul Analytics is formulating a medication taken through direct inhalation. It is intended to suppress damaging immune responses without impairing immune function.
Coronavirus Causes Cannabis Demand Surge
COVID-19 hasn’t just forced researchers to look for novel ways to treat the virus, but also prompted consumers to increase their demand for cannabis, especially on the dark web. A UN report suggests that a lack of access to black market dealers has led to an increase of online sales through the darknet.
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Fortunately, many states have deemed cannabis businesses essential with pot shops offering delivery or curbside pickup options. Cannabis from black market sources could contain pesticides and residual solvents, which can be detrimental to human health. Access to cannabis during this pandemic is crucial to the health of medicinal patients across the nation.
As the state of the global economy and health takes a damaging hit, every possible treatment option should be considered. While peer-reviewed studies are needed on the efficacy of cannabis as a prevention measure for coronavirus, preliminary research suggests cannabis extracts could be a potential adjunct therapy.
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