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Cannabis Research: Cannabis for Treating Coronavirus?

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As the novel coronavirus continues to upend our days. There’s little hope of “getting back to normal” until we have a COVID vaccine or suitable treatments. Medical researchers, understandably, are eager to look into new ways that old substances might help. 

COVID and Anti-Inflammatories

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Cannabis enthusiasts have evangelized about the purported health benefits of their favorite “herb” for years. In general, medical and legal professionals tend to dismiss that zeal as wishful thinking. But changes in regulation of cannabis in the last several years have permitted for the expansion of scientific research into the possible medical benefits. This has yielded some interesting (if not yet decisive) results.

Some anti-inflammatory drugs have been shown to improve coronavirus outcomes. In June 2020, medical researchers at University of Oxford determined that a common steroid, Dexamethasone, can be effective at improving outcomes for COVID patients. To date, the strongest evidence for general medical use of Cannabinoids is in preventing and reducing inflammation. Given its anti-inflammatory properties, cannabis industry researchers have recently suggested that cannabis products could similarly help fight coronavirus. 

Cannabis Research to Prevent and Treat Coronavirus—

Not surprisingly, given the enormity of the COVID crisis—and the financial incentives of an expanding cannabis industry—many are eager to bring its purported benefits to market.

Despite economic incentives, this isn’t just wishful thinking (see how we resisted saying “pipe dream”?) 

cannabis treatment for COVID-19

Researchers have explored using cannabis in anti-COVID strategies before: in 2007, Chinese researchers found that specific chemicals contained in cannabis had strong benefits in treating Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, SARS-CoV, the version of the coronavirus responsible for the 2003 outbreak. 

A more recent study by Canadian cannabis industry researchers Olga and Igor Kovalchuck claims to have found that some sativa strain(s) could help. They found that certain extracts appeared to reduce ACE2 gene expression. This prevents the virus from entering the body. 

—But (Way) More Research is Needed 

The research is incomplete and, according to researchers “…extracts require further large-scale validation…”. Moreover, some have pointed to its (not insignificant) problems:

  • the publishing journal is not peer-reviewed
  • the authors have conflicts of interest (Their research was in support of their own company’s product, a cannabis mouthwash proposed to an adjunct therapy for coronavirus)
  • and, perhaps most challenging, their research included no animal or human subjects, only artificial cell culture models

Encouragingly, other scientists are pursuing this line of research as well—but haven’t yet reached the clinical trials stage. As they say on TV, don’t try this at home, kids (especially not by smoking, which can damage respiratory function and thus increase vulnerability to the coronavirus).