The World Health Organization first announced Coronavirus, or COVID-19, as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on January 30th of this year. As of March 11th, coronavirus has been classified as an international pandemic. Over the past few months, the virus has devastated communities across the globe and claimed more than 330,000 lives to date – and its tragic toll is continually rising.
To help reduce the impact of the highly contagious virus and slow its rapid spread, communities in Colorado and worldwide have made significant changes to our daily routines. Smoke shops and dozens of other retail industries have temporarily closed their doors or shifted to online sales. Schools remained closed through the end of the 2019-2020 school year, opting instead for online curriculum, while many employees have similarly shifted to working from home when possible. Politicians have implored that the public only run essential errands – and on these, citizens have worn masks, maintained a distance of at least six feet, and diligently washed or sanitized our hands.
While we continue to implement our best collective efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus, researchers around the world are working fervently to find ways to effectively cure COVID-19, or even to reduce risk factors and alleviate the symptoms of those afflicted. While no cure has been found so far, researchers in Canada have recently suggested that cannabis could hold a critical component in the fight against coronavirus.
What Researchers Have Found (So Far)
Researchers at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta recently set out to discover potential treatments for COVID-19. Lethbridge researchers collaborated with Pathway Rx, an organization devoted to studying cannabis-derived therapies, and the CBD-based oral health business Swysh Incorporated.
These groups subsequently used the network Preprints to publicize their preliminary research toward the treatment of coronavirus. Preprints is an online platform dedicated to increasing the visibility and reach of research projects.
Dr. Igor Kovalchuk, CEO of Pathway Rx, worked as one of the lead researchers. In a recent interview, Kovalchuk spoke to the essential nature of coronavirus research like the work done by his team. “Given the current dire and rapidly evolving epidemiological situation, every possible therapeutic opportunity and avenue must be considered.”
In their recent study, these researchers examined more than a thousand strains of THC-dominant and CBD-dominant cannabis strains. They’ve since discovered that thirteen of the strains they examined can help to down-regulate ACE2, a protein receptor targeted by coronavirus in multiple parts of the human body – including (but not limited to) the lungs, mouth, and gastrointestinal tract. Sativa strains with high concentrations of CBD have shown particular potential.
“Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) has been generally accepted by the scientific community as a receptor required for the entry of SARS-CoV-2 into human cells,” explained Kovalchuk. “Our initial findings warrant further investigation but it’s possible that medical cannabis products could become a safe adjunct therapy for the treatment of COVID-19.”
Put more simply – some strains of cannabis engage with the same receptors in the body that coronavirus does. For this reason, scientists are hopeful that those who use these strains (or others like them) may be able to effectively reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19.
Is This The Smoking Gun We’ve Waited For?
Time to break out the water pipe in the name of health? Not so fast. So far, the research has only been conducted on artificial 3D models of the human body. This study’s findings still need to be peer-reviewed by other credible researchers and tested with human subjects before they’re taken as fact. Still, if they can be replicated, the findings of Alberta’s researchers are incredibly promising. In fact, cannabis strains in the research so far reduced the activity of virus receptors by up to 73 percent.
While work toward a vaccine is still essential to bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end, researchers have indicated that these strains could serve as a valuable part of a COVID-19 prevention plan. Droplets, mouth spray or other easily consumed forms could work in conjunction with the steps communities are already taking to help combat the virus and further reduce its rampant spread. Says Kovalchuk, “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.”
Ironically, financial difficulties within the cannabis industry resulting from coronavirus have limited the availability of funding for the follow up studies required for this research to advance. Funding from the Canadian Federal government has allowed their research to progress to this point. “The Government of Canada’s latest investment to support the health of Canadians creates a significant opportunity for Pathway Rx to advance our research and accelerate the development of custom therapies and products to help combat COVID-19.”
Studies like this one have remained controversial, and experts have stressed the importance of understanding that no substance should be considered a guaranteed treatment or cure until much more research and testing has been completed. Ultimately, a vaccine to cure or effectively prevent coronavirus is essential before we can be free from the virus’s deadly spread. Research of this nature is crucial in our collective effort to fight COVID-19.
In the Meantime, You’re Free to Study Solo
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