As of mid-July, COVID-19 had topped 12 million confirmed cases, over 500,000 deaths, and was still gaining ground worldwide. The virus is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets that use ACE2, a protein located on the surface of many cell types, as an entry point. Basically, this protein acts as a doorway for the virus to enter your body.
Researchers in a variety of subject areas have been racing to find a vaccine sooner rather than later, as well as exploring other medical options, like leveraging existing drugs and searching for other preventive measures, including asking what role that cannabis can play.
Now that only a third of states have not legalized some form of cannabis, a question is being asked in scientific communities, as well some households: Can cannabis help fight COVID-19?
Previous research has shown that several cannabinoids, which are natural compounds in the plant, have demonstrated anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. One of the more common ones is CBD. These cannabinoids could potentially be expanded to treat or reduce lung inflammation from coronavirus. Unlike Tocilizumab, a prescription medication, CBD does not cause adverse effects like inflammation of the pancreas or raise triglyceride levels, and it also doesn’t affect behavior or emotions.
Another positive of CBD is that it has already been approved in 2018 by the FDA for treatment of seizures in children over 2 years old as a safe alternative to other medications.
Research currently underway is looking at utilizing different combinations of CBD to help develop preventative strategies against the virus. Examples could include a CBD-based mouthwash or a throat gargle that may decrease viral entry of the coronavirus.
Another benefit of a CBD-based treatment could be lowering anxiety caused by stress or fears of the virus. And cannabis terpenes, which are natural compounds found in the flower/bud of the cannabis plant, may act as antiviral agents.
A recent study at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, that has since submitted to a scientific journal for peer review, noted that cannabis could reduce the entry point of the virus, and may also help block proteins that allow entry into the body.
One challenge, however, is that some in the scientific community in the U.S. are skeptical of cannabis research because some studies have been funded by industry and there are also complex federal rules surrounding use of the plant, even if individual states embrace it.
Pathway Rx, Inc. and Swysh Inc,. worked in partnership with the University of Lethbridge on its study, and other Canadian-based cannabis companies such as Curaleaf and Canopy Growth have also partnered with universities to conduct cannabis research. Keep in mind that industry in general has partnered and funded university research for many years, not only in healthcare, but in technology, engineering, and many other sectors.
What does this all mean? It means that rumors of early cannabis research showing promise in being effective against the coronavirus have merit, but there is no strong evidence to support a full conclusion yet.
To get to this point requires further exploration and research of how cannabis could treat or prevent COVID-19, including better cohesion between academia and industry in the U.S. Working to eliminate various restrictions in conducting cannabis research, including fear of breaking federal law or potential loss of funding, could accelerate these efforts.
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