Newly Developed Cannabis Strains May Prevent COVID-19 Infections, Researchers Say

Getty Nearly a century of marijuana prohibition came to an end Wednesday, October 17, 2018, as Canada became the first major Western nation to legalize and regulate its sale and recreational use.

Canadian scientists think they may have found a new way to prevent and slow COVID-19 with cannabis. But it’s not just any cannabis. Researchers at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta believe that they have developed particular strains of the plant that work to keep coronavirus from binding to cells and causing illness.

In a not yet peer-reviewed paper published in Preprints, the authors wrote, “The extracts of our most successful and novel high CBD C. sativa lines, pending further investigation, may become a useful and safe addition to the treatment of COVID-19 as an adjunct therapy.”

What these scientists are looking at is a high strain they developed of cannabidiol, or CBD, an active ingredient found in marijuana plants. CBD has been touted for everything in the last couple of years as a kind of miracle drug to help with myriad issues from anxiety to muscle pain to epilepsy. While the jury is still out on how well CBD works on some ailments, according to Harvard Medical Publishing, it has proven to be very effective for treating severe childhood epilepsies.

Two of the researchers in this new Cannabis study, Olga and Igor Kovalchuk have been creating hybrids and developing extracts using the drug since 2015, according to CTV News. When coronavirus came along, they started looking for ways the plant may be of use to fight the disease.

Researchers Think a High Strain of a Particular CBD Works to Block COVID-19 From Wreaking Havoc in the Body

GettyAn assistant holds up a marijuana/cannabis leaf in the Maripharma Laboratory February 15, 2002 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The Dutch government is the first in the world to officially approve the cultivation and sale of cannabis products to pharmacies for medical purposes.

What the paper proposes is that the strains of CBD they’ve developed blocks the receptor sites in the cells that COVID-19 attacks. Think, Wonder Woman’s Bracelets of Submission.

Essentially, COVID-19 attaches to particular receptors in the body to infect. The authors of the study say they may have found a way to use CBD products to block those receptors which may or may not keep a person from getting the virus but even if a person did get the virus, this treatment could work to decrease the severity.

The particular cells that the study focused on were the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, or ACE2 ‘receptor’. According to The Conversation, that cell “provides the entry point for the coronavirus to hook into and infect a wide range of human cells.”

Igor Kovalchuk told CTV News, “Imagine a cell being a large building, Cannabinoids decrease the number of doors in the building by, say, 70%, so it means the level of entry will be restricted. So, therefore, you have more chance to fight it.”

According to the paper, the researchers have developed over 800 new Cannabis sativa lines over the last five years. They “hypothesized that high-CBD C. sativa extracts may be used to modulate ACE2 expression in COVID-19 target tissues.”

They tested their theory on artificial human 3D models and found 13 strains that potentially work to change receptor cells so that the virus could not bind to them.

Not Just Any Weed Will Do. The COVID-19 Blocking CBD Strains Would Not be at Your Local Dispensary

GettyCannabis items for sale are seen on October 16, 2018 in a Montreal cannabis store owned by the SQDC (Société québecoise du cannabis), a day before the October 17, 2018 legalisation of cannabis in Canada.

Experts have warned against smoking or vaping during the pandemic, saying those things lead to lung damage and inflammation which could exacerbate the symptoms of the respiratory illness, COVID-19.

But what the Canadian’s have found is nothing like that. First, it’s CBD not THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana that gets you high. This treatment would not get you high. Second, one of the researchers Olga Kovalchuk told CTV, “The key thing is not that any cannabis you would pick up at the store will do the trick.”

While they admit they have not tested the strain as a smokable treatment, they are thinking more along the lines of developing the product as a mouthwash or “throat gargle product” that could be used at home or in a clinical setting a preventative.

This method of entry to the would work to “decrease viral entry via the oral mucosa,” they wrote, adding, “Given the current dire and rapidly evolving epidemiological situation, every possible therapeutic opportunity and avenue must be considered.”

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