Southern Alberta researchers say medical cannabis could help fight COVID-19
Published Tuesday, April 21, 2020 6:23PM MDT Last Updated Tuesday, April 21, 2020 10:03PM MDT
Further investigation needs to be done, but researchers have discovered cannabis may help fight COVID-19.
LETHBRIDGE, ALTA. -- Researchers at the University of Lethbridge say while clinical trials still need to be done, data they’ve been collecting over the past four years shows promise that some cannabis extracts may help in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.
Olga and Igor Kovalchuk have been working with cannabis since 2015, using varieties from around the world to create new hybrids and develop extracts that demonstrate certain therapeutic properties.
'There’s a lot of documented information about cannabis in cancer, cannabis in inflammation, anxiety, obesity and what not," says Igor. "When COVID-19 started, Olga had the idea to revisit our data, and see if we can utilize it for COVID."
"It was like a joker card, you know, coronavirus. It just mixes up everybody’s plans," says Olga.
She says they started to examine the special proteins, or receptors, that the virus hijacks to enter the body, and they’ve now submitted a research paper studying the effects of medical cannabis on COVID-19.
"We were totally stunned at first, and then we were really happy," says Olga.
The Kovalchuks say, based on the preliminary data and pending further investigations, anti-inflammatory high-CBD cannabis extracts can modulate the levels of the receptors in highly relevant tissues, such as the mouth, lungs and intestinal cells.
One of the receptors, known as ACE2, has now been shown to be a key gateway, to how the COVID-19 virus enters the body.
"The virus has the capacity to bind to it, and pull it into the cell, almost like a doorway," Olga says.
Other key receptors allow the virus to enter other cells more easily and multiply rapidly. But some cannabis extracts help to reduce inflammation and slow down the virus.
"Imagine a cell being a large building," says Igor. "Cannabinoids decrease the number of doors in the building by, say, 70 per cent, so it means the level of entry will be restricted. So, therefore, you have more chance to fight it."
The early discoveries indicate the cannabis extracts could be used in inhalers, mouthwash and throat gargle products for both clinical practice and at-home treatment.
The Kovalchuks haven’t tested the effects of smoking cannabis and say you won’t find any of these extracts at your local weed store.
"The key thing is not that any cannabis you would pick up at the store will do the trick," says Olga.
Over the past four years, they have tested hundreds of extracts, but only a small percentage have proven effective.
Those extracts contain high concentrations of CBD, but very low levels of THC, so users would not experience a "high."
The Kovalchuks say it’s a completely natural product, and has no side effects.
The research was conducted in partnership with the University of Lethbridge, Pathway RX Inc., and Swysh Inc., two companies focused on researching and developing custom cannabis therapies. Many of the cannabis varieties have been patented and are currently licensed to Pathway Rx’s partner Sundial Growers Inc., a Calgary-based cannabis licensed producer.
They stress their data is based on human tissue models and the next step would be to do clinical trials, something Igor says they are actively pursuing.
"Given the current dire and rapidly developing epidemiological situation, every possible therapeutic opportunity and avenue needs to be considered."
"We need to bring it to the people," says Olga. "We need to fight the beast."