The global race to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, or a medicinal drug to cure the invisible to the eye virus, has taken scientists both down the traditional and alternative route.
Remedesivir, a drug initially developed to treat Ebola, is among the existing candidates for curing the novel coronavirus. But what about medical cannabis?
Coronavirus and Medical Cannabis
In Germany, the first COVID-19-related clinical trials are based on a candidate developed for cancer immunology. Meanwhile, in France, researchers suggest that nicotine patches could protect people from the dangerous and life-threatening virus. And Canadian scientists perhaps grasp something even more exciting.
Research led by Canadian scientists stumbled upon a rather thrilling discovery involving certain strains of cannabis which allegedly may increase resistance to the coronavirus. If the research can be confirmed in the near future, it would appear that marijuana works similarly to nicotine.
“The results on COVID-19 came from our studies on arthritis, Crohn’s disease, cancer and others,” Dr Igor Kovalchuck, a professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Lethbridge, told Deutsche Welle.
Scientists suggest that some cannabis strains may have the ability to stop the virus from entering the lungs, where it spreads and reproduces.
According to a paper published on preprints.org, Kovalchuck and other researchers explain that these specially designed strains of cannabis effectively reduce the virus’s ability to enter the human body.
To enter a human host, the coronavirus needs a receptor, known as an “angiotensin-converting enzyme II” or ACE2, which can be found in the kidneys, in lung tissue, testes, in oral and nasal mucus and gastrointestinal tracts. By regulating ACE2 levels in those “gateways” to the human body, it may be possible to reduce vulnerability to the novel virus. It could reduce our risk of infection, the paper writes.
“If there is no ACE2 on tissues, the virus will not enter,” says Kovalchuck.
The science community has already acknowledged some of the therapeutic applications that medical cannabis has on the human body. This beloved plant has been lauded for its capabilities to manage anxiety, stress, pain and even alleviate some of the symptoms of cancer. That is largely the reason cannabis legalization has progressed around the world significantly over the past few years.
Medical cannabis differs completely from what you might call recreational cannabis, however. The main difference between ‘street weed’ and medicinal marijuana is the levels of the two different chemicals found in the cannabis plant.
While recreational marijuana is known for high levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)- the main psychoactive agent in the drug responsible for the ‘lucrative high’ and pain-relieving benefits, medicinal cannabis is high in cannabidiol (CBD) — one of the two main components.
The Canadian team of scientists has focused on strains of the Cannabis sativa plant that are high in (CBD), which recently gained notoriety for its anti-inflammatory properties and various other health benefits.
The researchers, who are based in Alberta, have developed more than 800 new Cannabis sativa variants, with high levels of CBD. Out of these, they identified 13 extracts that show a lot of promise to modulate ACE2 levels, thus potentially help to protect the human lungs from the novel coronavirus.
“Our varieties are high in CBD, or balanced CBD/THC, because you can give a higher dose and people will not be impaired due to the psychoactive properties of THC,” says Kovalchuck.
Kovalchuck also leads a company known as Inplanta BioTechnology, with Dr Darryl Hudson, who has a PhD from the University of Guelph — Canadian institute where research is ongoing into the use of cannabinoids in medicine.
However, Kovalchuck told Deutsche Welle that funding for cannabinoid research is “still hard” — as is the case in other countries as well.
Some UK researchers say the lack of funding is maybe a result of the misconceptions among the politicians and the general public about medicinal cannabis. There is even a fear that people will try to self-medicate and become addicted to consuming just any cannabis they lay hands upon. That is why researchers further suggest it’s vital to be upfront and clear about the information and to avoid sensationalism, especially since this concerns coronavirus and medical cannabis.
The main issue it seems is that without funding and more research, there is a little chance of progress in the CBD field.
“But there is ENORMOUS interest now,” Kovalchuk told DW in email. And that’s his emphasis. “The tide is coming.”
While Kovalchuk and his colleagues note even their most effective extracts need large-scale validation, they say they may be a “safe addition” to the treatment of COVID-19.
With large-scale verification pending, medicinal cannabis could be developed into ‘preventative Coweed easy-to-use treatments’ like throat gargle or mouthwash in both home and clinical use.
It remains to see whether the entire coronavirus and medical cannabis situation generates something really significant for the industry.