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Cannabis may reduce coronavirus infection by up to 70% and even treat it, says research

Though the results of the study are promising, it has not been peer-reviewed and does have its limitations
UPDATED JUN 24, 2020
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Scientists looking into cannabis as a possible cure and treatment for Covid-19 have said that they believe the plant could have the potential to reduce infection by as much as 70 percent.

In a study conducted by researchers from the University of Lethbridge in Canada, it was found that at least 13 strains of cannabis were high in Cannabidiol (CBD) — an essential component of medical marijuana that has been used to treat anxiety and insomnia — that affects the ACE2 pathways that the SARS-CoV-2 virus uses to access the body of its host.

The results, which were obtained after parsing through 400 different strains, were published in online journal Preprints and indicated that hemp extracts high in CBD might help block proteins that provide a "gateway" for the coronavirus to enter the cells.

"The virus has the capacity to bind to [ACE2] and pull it into the cell, almost like a doorway," Olga Kovalchuk, one of the researchers involved in the study, explained to CTV News, adding that other key receptors then allow the virus to enter other cells more easily and multiply rapidly.

Igor Kovalchuk, her husband,  said cannabis could reduce the virus' entry points significantly. "Imagine a cell being a large building," he said. "Cannabinoids decrease the number of doors in the building by, say, 70 percent, so it means the level of entry will be restricted. So, therefore, you have more chance to fight it."

"A number of them have reduced the number of these (virus) receptors by 73 percent, the chance of it getting in is much lower," he similarly told the Calgary Herald. "If they can reduce the number of receptors, there’s much less chance of getting infected."

Igor has been studying cannabis alongside Olga since 2015, and they said they started to examine the special proteins or receptors, that the virus hijacks to enter the body after looking at how the plant had proven effective against so many other ailments.

"We were totally stunned at first, and then we were really happy," Olga said of their results.

However, Igor cautioned that the effective balance between CBD and THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, in blocking the coronavirus was still unclear. "It will take a long time to find what the active ingredient is — there may be many," he said. 

The study was carried out in partnership with Pathway Rx, a cannabis therapy research company, and Swysh Inc., a cannabinoid-based research company, and if successful, could find practical medical use in the form of mouthwash, gargle, inhalants or gel caps.

Both Igor and Olga said their data is based on human tissue models and said the next step would be to conduct clinical trials. They are now seeking funding to continue their efforts to support scientific initiatives to address Covid-19.

"While our most effective extracts require further large-scale validation, our study is crucial for the future analysis of the effects of medical cannabis on Covid-19," they said. "Given the current dire and rapidly evolving epidemiological situation, every possible therapeutic opportunity and avenue must be considered."

Though the results of the study are promising, it has not been peer-reviewed and does have its limitations.

The study was designed to be tested on 3D human tissue models, and actual human bodies may not respond to the cannabis strains the same way or have the same results. Olga similarly cautioned that they had not yet tested the effects smoking cannabis had on the virus.

Furthermore, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that no medicine has yet proven to be effective against Covid-19. "WHO does not recommend self-medication with any medicines, including antibiotics, as a prevention or cure for Covid-19," the organization said.