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Fighting COVID-19 with cannabis: Where the research stands

Fighting COVID-19 with cannabis: Where the research stands

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As the world waits for a vaccine that could lift the pandemic’s grip on daily life and the global economy, vaccination-related developments have seized most of the headlines. But in the absence of a vaccine, researchers across the world are examining other ways to lower infection rates and stop COVID-19 from causing serious illness and death — including through the use of cannabis. 

Some of those studies are making progress, while other research initiatives have been called off since being announced. Here’s where it all stands.

Cannabis mouthwash to prevent infection?

A preliminary study performed at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada is testing the hypothesis that cannabis varieties with a high percentage of CBD could make people less susceptible to coronavirus infections. Specifically, they believe it could reduce the number of “gateways” for the virus to take hold in the body.

“We…hypothesized that high-CBD [cannabis] sativa extracts may be used to modulate ACE2 expression in COVID-19 target tissues,” the researchers state in a non-peer reviewed study published in April. 

They added that their initial data suggests that some cannabis extracts can also down-regulate another critical protein required for SARS-CoV2 entry into host cells.

The researchers proposed that some extracts of high-CBD cannabis varieties could be used “to develop easy-to-use preventative treatments in the form of mouthwash and throat gargle products for both clinical and at-home use. Such products ought to be tested for their potential to decrease viral entry via the oral mucosa.”

Taming the cytokine storm with cannabis

A preclinical study published in July found that CBD, which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, could help temper or even reverse the “cytokine storm” that occurs with acute respiratory distress syndrome. ARDS is the leading cause of mortality from severe respiratory viral infections like COVID-19, according to the researchers. 

“Our results suggest a potential protective role for CBD during ARDS that may extend CBD as part of the treatment of COVID-19 by reducing the cytokine storm, protecting pulmonary tissues, and re-establishing inflammatory homeostasis,” the researchers stated. 

That study, from Augusta University in Georgia, was performed on mice. While experiencing cytokine storm symptoms, the mice were given CBD, after which the researchers said, “these symptoms were totally or partially reversed and returned to the level and condition of the normal after treatment with CBD.” 

Current data “support[s] the notion that the anti-inflammatory function of CBD may reduce cytokine storm and mitigate the effects of exaggerated inflammation.”

“It is plausible that CBD may be used as a therapeutic candidate in the treatment of various inflammatory conditions including COVID-19 and other virus-induced ARDS,” they added.

Separately, two companies, Eybna, which specializes in terpene-based medicines, and CannaSoul Analytics, the cannabis research and development company chaired by leading cannabis researcher Dr. Dedi Meiri, have launched a study to determine if the anti-inflammatory properties of some terpenes could temper the cytokine storm. 

According to an article in Forbes, initial reports from the study indicated that a combined CBD-terpene treatment was three times more effective at weakening the cytokine storm than dexamethasone, a corticosteroid which a recent study found is effective at treating cytokine storms in COVID-19 patients. 

Helping lung cells fight off, recover from COVID-19

Earlier this year, reports circulated about a series of studies in Israel examining how cannabis, and CBD in particular, could potentially fight coronavirus infection and the symptoms of COVID-19.

In April, InnoCan Pharma and Tel Aviv University announced that they were developing a treatment to fight COVID-19 using cannabidiol (CBD) loaded exosomes — small structures attached to cells that are created when stem cells multiply. 

The project involves administering CBD to patients via an inhalation technique using those exosomes, which InnoCan says could potentially have anti-inflammatory properties that can help in the recovery of infected lung cells. 

InnoCan CEO Iris Bincovich told The Cannigma that the study is trending in the right direction, but would provide no further details.

Studies halted, waiting for approval

Also in April, CBD research and development company Stero Biotechs and a company associated with Clalit, the largest HMO in Israel, announced study using a steroid-sparing CBD-based treatment to treat COVID-19 patients. 

Contacted by The Cannigma in July, however, the company said it had decided not to launch the study due to a paucity of seriously ill patients available to take part.

That same month, a third study was announced involving researchers from Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center, to test the effectiveness of treating COVID-19 patients using cannabis. 

Earlier this month, Dr. Barak Cohen of Tel Aviv University, one of the researchers leading the study, told The Cannigma that they are still awaiting approval from state and local authorities for the study. He provided no further details about what the study would potentially entail.

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