Coronavirus and Cannabis

You might not be able to run to the local MMJ outlet to buy a cure-all for COVID-19, but cannabis is still on the menu, with at least two clinical studies underway evaluating CBDs for prevention and treatment of the novel coronavirus.

Even if it is not the panacea the world is looking for, use of MMJ is probably a lot safer than injecting disinfectant into your veins.

While studies for coronavirus therapies are in the infancy stages, some have shown promise blocking the virus, and as an anti-inflammatory agent for those afflicted with the disease. Two such studies, originating in Canada and Israel, have recently caught the attention of medicinal cannabis advocates hoping to further legitimize the herb as mainstream medicine.

The studies are not for an anti-virus vaccine, but as therapies that could enhance primary treatment and "prevention strategies" to deny the virus entry into the body or as an anti-inflammatory treatment that may help prevent acute respiratory distress for those afflicted with the disease.

The Canadian study is a collaboration between the University of Lethbridge, Pathway Rx, a Canadian pharmaceutical research company that develops cannabis therapies and Swysh, Inc., a cannabinoid-based oral health company.

In April, the group released a preclinical study for peer review titled, "In Search of Preventative Strategies: Novel Anti-Inflammatory High-CBD Cannabis Sativa Extracts Modulate ACE2 Expression in COVID-19 Gateway Tissues."

The study looked at hundreds of strains of cannabis and their effect on artificial lung, oral/nasal and intestinal tissue and their ability to modulate angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). According to researchers involved in the study, ACE2 is a receptor required for COVID to enter the cells.

"ACE2 may be the way COVID enters the cell," Heather Moroso, NMD said. "If you make more of it, it's basically like opening more doors for the virus to enter. If you make less or block ACE2, then potentially that's fewer doors for the virus to enter."

If the research proves successful, the resulting medications could be administered in the form of mouthwash, gargle, inhalants or gel caps, according to those involved with the study. Smoking cannabis, on the other hand, might exacerbate lung problems brought on by the virus.

"There is some evidence that smoking in general may make one more vulnerable to COVID," Moroso said.

Researchers say a fraction of the strains that have been tested have shown success in reducing virus receptors by as much as 73 percent.

Studies may have hit roadblocks though, as a lack of clinical trials and insufficient funding has kept the work in its infancy phase.

The Israeli study, a collaboration between InnoCan Pharma of Israel and Tel Aviv University, focuses on products using CBD-loaded exosomes to treat lung inflammation.

The exosomes could be safely administered without adverse reactions, creating a potentially safe delivery system via inhalation for a variety of lung infections in COVID patients. The study focused on CBDs in order to reduce patient impairment that may be caused by higher levels of THC in other forms of the drug.

While the studies represent something of a boon for cannabis advocates, locally, response to the reports is that it's "not ready for prime time."

To begin with, the Canadian study utilized artificial tissue models, so it is not clear if the results would be the same if conducted on living humans.

"The [Lethbridge] paper utilizes tissue models which are very far removed from human, or animal, organs in-situ and hence any conclusions must be taken with great caution," said a retired Tucson neuroscientist who declined to be identified for this report. "In my opinion, the results are extremely preliminary and may not have any relevance to the question at hand: adjunct therapies to combat COVID-19 infection."

There is also a problem of "confirmation bias," which means there may be a subconscious desire for a cannabis "miracle cure" that may lead to a loss of objectivity in processing the results of studies on the drug.

"Everybody wants cannabis to be a cure-all miracle drug," Moroso said, adding that while the state of Arizona does not recognize sleep issues as qualifying conditions, sleep can be an important aspect to stress reduction.

Additionally, during the current state of the pandemic, MMJ can have positive effects on patients experiencing anxiety over their lives and futures, as the economic and health impacts of a global pandemic make the future murky, at best.

"Cannabis can help people suffering from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder," Moroso said. "The stress and anxiety of being in isolation; unknown job and family situations; domestic abuse and isolation? I'm not a rocket scientist, but sensible use of the drug can help reduce the anxiety."

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