Over the past few months, health officials and anti-legalization advocates have boosted the signal on stern warnings about smoking cannabis during the coronavirus epidemic, cautioning the general public that anything that causes lung irritation could make them susceptible to COVID-19. Researchers in Alberta, however, may have an addendum to that narrative, as word came down that cannabis extracts could make people more resistant to the virus.
According to a report in the Calgary Herald, biological scientist Dr. Igor Kovalchuk and his team at the University of Lethbridge looked at roughly 400 strains of cannabis, finding about a dozen or so that they believe could stop the coronavirus from “taking root” in the body.
“A number of them have reduced the number of these (virus) receptors by 73 percent, the chance of it getting in is much lower,” Kovalchuk told the Calgary Herald.
“If they can reduce the number of receptors, there’s much less chance of getting infected,” he continued.
Cannabis sativa strains appear to be the key to the research team’s findings, with an effective balance between THC and CBD. How the compounds work to block the virus still remains unknown to the scientists, even though they do believe that the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD seem to be critical to the equation.
“It will take a long time to find what the active ingredient is — there may be many,” said Kovalchuk, according to the Herald. “We focus more on the higher CBD because people can take higher doses and not be impaired.”
Researchers are using artificial human 3-D tissue models for their testing. According to the Calgary Herald, they are attempting to stop the coronavirus from finding a host in various organs in the body, including the lungs, intestines, and oral cavity.
The study, which is being done under Health Canada, hopes to use its findings to develop practical products to prevent the virus such as mouth wash, gargle, inhalants, or gel caps. Researchers were clear that they were not working on a vaccine.
“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,” Kovalchuk told the Herald.
Right now, funding remains an issue, as the cannabis industry remains strapped for cash during the current economic downturn. Without money to support the project, researchers are having trouble doing clinical trials.
“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 told the Calgary Herald.
The team in Alberta isn’t the only one working with cannabis and the coronavirus. Israeli scientists have begun clinical trials with CBD as well, hoping to prove it can repair cells damaged by the virus.
“Our work could have a huge influence — there aren’t many drugs that have the potential of reducing infection by 70 to 80 percent,” Kovalchuk told the Calgary Herald.