Researchers at the University of Lethbridge, Olga and Igor Kovalchuk, say that based on their research involving cannabis extracts over the past four years, there is a possibility that medicinal marijuana can be used in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. However, they are still waiting for clinical trials to take place and confirm their hypothesis.
The research was carried out in partnership with Lethbridge, Pathway RX Inc., and Swysh Inc. These are two companies that focus on developing custom cannabis therapies.
The Kovalchuks have been collecting and studying cannabis varieties from all over the world since 2015. They develop extracts from those and create new hybrids that can help medicinally and have specific therapeutic properties.
“There’s a lot of documented information about cannabis in cancer, cannabis in inflammation, anxiety, obesity, and what not,” says Igor.
So when the coronavirus pandemic hit the world, Olga had the idea to go back to their research and see if there was some way they could utilize the novel COVID-19 virus.
“It was like a joker card, you know, coronavirus. It just mixes up everybody’s plans,” says Olga.
According to Olga, they started studying and examining the receptors that the virus hijacks and latches on to, to enter the body. They’ve now submitted a research paper analyzing the effects that medicinal marijuana could have on the virus.
The mouth, lungs, and intestinal cells are highly affected by the virus, and according to Olga and Igor’s preliminary data, the anti-inflammatory high-CBD cannabis extracts can change the levels of the receptors in these affected tissues.
To understand how the COVID-19 virus enters the body, it is essential to understand one of the receptors ACE2, which has now shown to be a key gateway.
Olga says that the virus has the capacity to bind itself to ACE2, and it pulls it into the cell, almost like a doorway.
Other key receptors that allow the virus to enter other cells easily and multiply at a rapid pace. What the cannabis extracts do is, they slow down the virus, not let it spread rapidly, and reduce the inflammation.
“Imagine a cell being a large building,” says Igor. “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.”
Over the past four years and after having tested hundreds of extracts, the Kovalchuks have noticed that only a small percentage of these have proven to be effective.
Olga says, “The key thing is not that any cannabis you would pick up at the store will do the trick.”
They haven’t tested the effects of smoking cannabis, but they do say that you won’t find the effective extracts at the weed store.
Their early discoveries point towards using the marijuana extracts in inhalers, mouthwash, and gargle products for both at-home treatment as well as for the clinical practice.
The extracts they’ve managed to make have high concentrations of CBD, but very low levels of THC, which is what gives you the ‘high.’ So, these extracts won’t lead you to feel high, nor would it have any side effects. The Kovalchuks say that it is an entirely natural product.
Igor says that their data is based on the human tissue model, and they are actively pursuing the clinical trials since that is the next step.
“We need to bring it to the people,” says Olga. “We need to fight the beast.”
The Kovalchuks believe that given the current spread of the pandemic and a dire need of a solution to curb the crisis, every therapeutic opportunity and potential avenue needs to be considered.