New research from Canada suggests that certain cannabis extracts could be used to prevent coronavirus infections in the future.
The preliminary study published on Preprints, a non-peer-reviewed academic publishing platform, focused on preventing coronavirus from attaching itself to humans cells while in the lungs, intestines, and mouth.
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A team of biologists at the University of Lethbridge in Calgary is studying more than 400 strains of cannabis and found at least a dozen that may offer potential as part of treatments to prevent coronavirus from infecting a host.
The team found that certain oils containing different combinations of CBD and THC could lower the production of two proteins in human cells that the coronavirus uses to enter the body and cause COVID-19.
“A number of them have reduced the number of these receptors by 73 percent, the chance of it getting in is much lower,” Dr. Igor Kovalchuk told the Calgary Herald. “If they can reduce the number of receptors, there’s much less chance of getting infected.”
Kovalchuk stressed that much more research would be necessary before the researchers understand whether CBD, THC, or some combination of ingredients is causing the reduction in receptors.
“The extracts of our most successful and novel high CBD C sativa lines, pending further investigation, may become a useful and safe addition to the treatment of COVID-19 as an adjunct therapy,” he said. “Given the current dire and rapidly evolving epidemiological situation, every possible therapeutic opportunity and avenue must be considered.”
Should further research support the initial findings, Kovalchuk said they could develop cannabinoid-infused medicinal mouthwashes, gargles, gel caps, or inhalants that could potentially be used by people to help reduce their risk of infection.
“Given the current dire and rapidly evolving epidemiological situation, every possible therapeutic opportunity and avenue must be considered.”
So can cannabis prevent coronavirus or not?
Before you start telling your entire family to gargle with CBD oil, there are some major caveats in this study to be aware of.
First of all, it’s a preliminary study published on a non-peer-reviewed online publication. While that’s a legitimate process to get new academic findings out to the broader scientific community quickly, it also means that nobody other than the researchers that performed the study reviewed its findings.
As such, it’s too early to get excited about.
Virologist Angela Rasmussen, a research scientist at Columbia University, rightly told PolitiFact “it may be worth more study, but in my opinion this is a very long way from being a legitimate candidate for therapeutics or preventative products like mouthwash.”
Secondly, the researchers didn’t test cannabis oils on human subjects but grew specially cultured human cells that produce the two proteins in question (ACE2 and TMPRSS2, if you must know). Using these cell cultures, they found that the cannabis oils regulated the activity of genes that are responsible for making and modulating ACE2 and TMPRSS2.
According to the paper, the two most effective extracts for downregulating ACE2 were a 1:21 THC-to-CBD ratio oil and a 1:3 THC-to-CBD oil. The researchers couldn’t explain how both of these very different ratios worked best at reducing ACE2 activity, which strengthens Kovalchuk’s point that much more research is needed.
And that brings us to the researchers’ biggest problem, they can’t find anyone to fund their research, which would have to move to human trials next in order to produce meaningful data.
“We have clinicians who are willing to work with us but for a lot of companies in the cannabis business, it’s significant cash that they can’t afford,” Kovalchuk said. “Our work could have a huge influence – there aren’t many drugs that have the potential of reducing infection by 70 to 80 percent.”
Luckily, the Canadians aren’t the only ones looking into cannabinoids as a possible treatment for, or prevention of COVID-19. A group of Israeli researchers has begun clinical trials meant to test whether CBD can be used to repair cells that have been damaged by Covid-19.
In any case, the paper stresses that if cannabinoids could one day be used to prevent a coronavirus infection, they would be used as an adjunct therapy, which his doctor-speak for a therapy that is given in addition to the primary treatment to maximize its effectiveness.
So no, cannabis can not treat coronavirus (yet) despite what many sensationalized headlines may want you to believe.
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