Scientists believe cannabis could help prevent and treat coronavirus

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They have high hopes for a coronavirus breakthrough.A team of Canadian scientists believes it has found strong strains of cannabis that could help prevent or treat coronavirus infections, according to interviews and a study.

Researchers from the University of Lethbridge said a study in April showed at least 13 cannabis plants were high in CBD that appeared to affect the ACE2 pathways that the bug uses to access the body.

“We were totally stunned at first, and then we were really happy,” one of the researchers, Olga Kovalchuk, told CTV News.The results, printed in online journal Preprints, indicated hemp extracts high in CBD may help block proteins that provide a “gateway” for COVID-19 to enter host cells.

Kovalchuk’s husband, Igor, suggested cannabis could reduce the virus’ entry points by up to 70 percent. “Therefore, you have more chance to fight it,” he told CTV.“Our work could have a huge influence — there aren’t many drugs that have the potential of reducing infection by 70 to 80 percent,” he told the Calgary Herald.

While they stressed that more research was needed, the study gave hope that the cannabis, if proven to modulate the enzyme, “may prove a plausible strategy for decreasing disease susceptibility” as well as “become a useful and safe addition to the treatment of COVID-19 as an adjunct therapy.”Cannabis could even be used to “develop easy-to-use preventative treatments in the form of mouthwash and throat gargle products,” the study suggested, with a “potential to decrease viral entry” through the mouth.

“The key thing is not that any cannabis you would pick up at the store will do the trick,” Olga told CTV, with the study suggesting just a handful of more than 800 varieties of sativa seemed to help.All were high in anti-inflammatory CBD — but low in THC, the part that produces the cannabis high.

“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,” the research said.

“Given the current dire and rapidly evolving epidemiological situation, every possible therapeutic opportunity and avenue must be considered.”

The study, published in peer journal Preprints, was conducted by the scientists in April, and the results were released in a non-peer-reviewed, preclinical study titled “In Search of Preventative Strategies: Novel Anti-Inflammatory High-CBD Cannabis Sativa Extracts Modulate ACE2 Expression in COVID-19 Gateway Tissues” earlier this month, according to a release from pharmaceutical research company Pathway RX.

The study is a partnership among the university, Pathway, which works to develop cannabis therapies to treat specific diseases, and cannabinoid-based oral health company Swysh Inc. The researchers in Alberta, Canada, conducted a study using artificial 3D models of oral, airway and intestinal tissues coupled with a limited sample of high CBD Cannabis sativa extracts modulate ACE2 gene expression and ACE2 protein levels. The results indicated hemp extracts high in CBD may help block proteins that provide a “gateway” for COVID-19 to enter host cells.

“Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) has been generally accepted by the scientific community as a receptor required for the entry of SARS-CoV-2 into human cells,” said Dr. Igor Kovalchuk, CEO of Pathway Rx and holder of a Health Canada License for Cannabis Research. He added that, “Our initial findings warrant further investigation but it’s possible that medical cannabis products could become a safe adjunct therapy for the treatment of COVID-19.” 

The study results were recently shared publicly, and the research paper was submitted to a scientific journal for peer review, according to Pathway Rx.

Among the 1,000 Cannabis sativa varieties that have been screened by Pathway Rx, only a small number have expressed medicinal properties. The research company is seeking funding to continue its efforts to support scientific initiatives to address COVID-19. 

“The Government of Canada’s latest investment to support the health of Canadians creates a significant opportunity for Pathway Rx to advance our research and accelerate the development of custom therapies and products to help combat COVID-19,” Kovalchuk said in a statement.

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