As we’re all hunkered down navigating this new normal from the too-tight confines of home, the only thing getting us through (aside from all the Netflix and comfort food) is hope for an effective COVID-19 vaccine. And it can’t come soon enough.

While scientists are hard at work on trying to develop it, new research suggests that, in the meantime, there could be a novel way to treat the virus on the horizon.

How Can Cannabis Treat Covid-19?

Researchers from The University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada in partnership with Pathway RX and Swysh, found that certain strains of cannabis known as CBD Cannabis sativa are capable of modulating the gene expression and protein levels of receptors in gateway tissues of coronavirus. And that’s not all, they also have the potential to inhibit the virus entry into cells, curtail disease spread, and reduce mortality.

That all sounds very technical, but here’s what it means. If you think of Covid-19 as a key, picture that key prowling around your body looking for a keyhole so it can unlock and then invade. Cannabis is like the deadbolt, making the key not work. Granted, it’s not quite as extreme, but that’s the idea.

How Covid-19 Affects The Body

COVID-19, similar to all other respiratory viruses, is spread through respiratory droplets from an infected patient who sneezes or coughs. When the healthy person breathes in these droplets, the virus is transmitted by attaching itself to a receptor (called ACE2) that lives on the surface of human cells—namely in the lung tissue, as well as oral and nasal mucosa, the kidneys, testes, and the gastrointestinal tract.

The problem is once Covid-19 attaches to the ACE2 receptor, ACE2 can’t do its normal job in your body. (It’s a little complicated, but basically ACE2 regulates ANG II signaling.  And, when ACE2 is all tied up with Covid-19, it’s distracted from regulating ANG. Then there’s too much ANG floating around, and it can injure your tissues.)

What Did The Study Show, Exactly?

In the study, which was published in Preprints, scientists used artificial human 3D models of oral, airway, and intestinal tissues, and found that when 13 high CBD cannabis sativa extracts, which have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, were applied topically to the tissues, they were able to modulate ACE2 gene expression and ACE2 protein levels.

“We tested close to 400 varieties and selected those that had the best effect in reducing the expression of ACE2 receptors on the surface of human cells,” says Igor Kovalchuk, M.D., Ph.D., professor of biology at The University of Lethbridge and lead researcher on the study.

Dr. Kovalchuk and his team don’t yet know why these cannabis sativa varieties reduced the expression of proteins, but Dr. Kovalchuk suspects, “it likely because it decreases transcription—production of RNA from DNA encoding ACE2 receptor.”

Though preliminary, the results are promising because this type of treatment “may likely decrease the rate of infection and may have a chance to decrease the severity of the disease and the complications it is causing,” Dr. Kovalchuk says.

What’s Next In Researching Cannabis and Covid-19?

Proper clinical trials still need to be conducted before researchers can determine whether the cannabis strain will help actual patients. But, if it works as well in real humans as it did in the 3D model,  it is possible that medical cannabis products could become a safe, additional therapy for the treatment of COVID-19. It would likely be in the form of a mouthwash or throat gargle product for clinical and home use.

A second research study that examines the use of cannabis extracts for taming cytokine storms will be published soon. A cytokine storm, when the body starts to attack its own cells and tissues instead of fighting off the virus, is thought to be the reason why otherwise healthy people can have a fatal reaction to COVID-19.

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Last Updated: May 27, 2020