In April, researchers at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada began studying cannabis as a possible preventative and treatment for the coronavirus. They found that various strains high in the cannabinoid CBD affected ACE2 pathways, the entry point the coronavirus can use to infect the human body.
Since that time, the studies have continued and garnered a significant amount of attention from media outlets as well as ongoing positive results for the two lead researchers, husband and wife team Igor and Olga Kovalchuk. Green Flower caught up with Igor, who is a Professor of Biological Sciences, to discuss what this could mean for the ongoing battle against the worldwide pandemic.
“The purpose of the research is to get people a product that will decrease the chance of being infected and decrease the chance to develop a severe form of the disease,” he said. “In order for this to happen the research needs to go to human trials.”
Kovalchuk has seen that cannabis can decrease the expression of ACE2 receptors quite dramatically.
“ACE2 is required by the virus to enter the cells,” said Kovalchuk. “We hypothesized that our extracts could help reduce the rate of infection so fewer people would get infected if they were able to use it. At the same time, when it infects us, it forces our cells to amplify this receptor, that’s what leads to a larger broad infection and more severe cases.” Kovalchuk concluded this by saying that if these ACE2 receptors are essentially protected by cannabis compounds, severe COVID-19 cases can be decreased.
If cannabis compounds are eventually used as a preventative or treatment for the coronavirus, it could be administered in various ways. “If it’s a preventative it can be a nasal spray, a mouthwash, it can even be just a patch,” he said. “For treatment, depending on the tissues it can be anything from a sublingual, to gelcaps, to oils, patch, or suppository, even an inhaler.”
As to when specific types of cannabis could be available for coronavirus prevention and treatment, he believes the United States is the optimal place for it to be sold first. “In the U.S., cannabis extracts produced from hemp or low-THC cannabis can be prescribed over the counter,” said Kovalchuk. “If our clinical trials demonstrate a significant difference, I would assume later this year there would be an OTC [product] in the U.S. for preventative purposes.”
For Canada, where Kovalchuk’s research is being conducted, much stricter guidelines exist in terms of licensing and distribution — he doesn’t see a treatment such as this being available anytime soon. “In Canada, unfortunately our Health Canada laws for over-the-counter cannabis are brutal … probably two or three years,” he said.
One of the greatest benefits to a possible treatment for COVID-19 using cannabis is further normalization of cannabis as an accepted medicine. If it can prevent and even treat a disease affecting every corner of the world at the same time, Kovalchuk feels it would be hard to argue its efficacy. “Consider this, a regular cold is caused by a variety of different viruses including coronavirus, so if it works against COVID-19, I have always believed it will work against other cold viruses as well.”