Researchers from the University of Lethbridge, Canada, have found that cannabis may be able to block COVID-19 infections. In findings published in a preliminary research paper, they hope that their findings encourage further research into the possibility of cannabis-based treatments for the virus.
For the study, the researchers led by Dr. Igor Kovalchuck developed over 800 new cannabis sativa lines and extracts. They worked to develop strains high in anti-inflammatory cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD), as the compound has been proposed to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. They then used simulations to map out how each strain may impact COVID-19 infections in human oral, airway and intestinal tissues. In particular, they monitored each strain’s ability to modulate ACE2 levels, an enzyme previously linked to COVID-19 infection.
In the end, the researchers identified 13 CBD extracts that are able to modulate ACE2 levels. Their data also suggested that some strains were also able to down-regulate serine protease TMPRSS2, another protein critical for COVID-19 to enter host cells and spread throughout the body.
Although promising results, the researchers say that their findings are yet to be peer-reviewed and so can not be taken as conclusive evidence of cannabis’s ability to treat the virus. In the meantime however, they have said that they hope that their findings, if proven significant, may be able to inform further research to develop easy-to-use therapeutics to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Researchers have to be particularly careful when disseminating their results given the socio-political volatility of medicinal cannabis use, “ says Chris Albertyn, an expert on cannabinoids and dementia from King’s College London.
“In this instance, the current research from Canada has just unveiled a potential therapeutic 'mechanism of action' but that would need to be validated and tested in well-designed, robust clinical trials before any meaningful clinical conclusions can be drawn.”