The race for an effective COVID-19 treatment is on. Here’s what the experts are looking into regarding COVID and cannabis.
Research centers around the world are throwing everything and anything at the global pandemic, in a desperate attempt to slow it down. Seemingly everything is on the table, from the outrageous suggestions like bleach to the scientifically backed options, such as dexamethasone. Somewhere in this midst of this frantic experimentation is a new discussion about COVID and cannabis.
Unlike some of the more ridiculous (and downright dangerous) options circulating for the treatment of COVID-19, cannabis has some compelling scientific evidence. One of the newest pieces of information is coming from Eybna and CannaSoul Analytics, two Israeli based research and development companies. In particular, they are exploring cannabidiol (CBD) and a suite of anti-inflammatory terpenes.
CBD and Terpenes to Fight COVID-19
As reported by Forbes, the Israeli research partnership led by Associate Professor Dedi Meiri compared CBD, a trademarked terpene formulation, and one of the leading COVID-19 treatments, dexamethasone. Dexamethasone is a common steroid for effects on cytokine secretion. The study’s goal was to determine if either of the cannabis extracts (CBD or terpenes) had an impact on the development of dangerous cytokine storms.
Quick Explainer: Cytokine Storms
Cytokine storms are, “A severe immune reaction in which the body releases too many cytokines into the blood too quickly. Cytokines play an important role in normal immune responses, but having a large amount of them released in the body all at once can be harmful,” according to the National Cancer Institute.
Cytokine storms have become a common reaction among patients with a COVID-19 infection. If a treatment can reduce cytokine secretion it might thereby reduce the risk of cytokine storms. If so, it likely will improve the chances of survival and recovery for the patient in question.
Results of the Israeli Research
In Meiri’s initial tests, his team specifically chose to compare cannabis compounds against one of the most successful treatments thus far: dexamethasone. This cheap and widely available steroid seems to improve survival rates. As the initial study reported, “In patients hospitalized with Covid-19, the use of dexamethasone resulted in lower 28-day mortality among those who were receiving either invasive mechanical ventilation or oxygen alone at randomization but not among those receiving no respiratory support.”1)RECOVERY Collaborative Group, Horby P, Lim WS, et al. Dexamethasone in Hospitalized Patients with Covid-19 – Preliminary Report [published online ahead of print, 2020 Jul 17]. N Engl J Med. 2020;10.1056/NEJMoa2021436. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa2021436
In comparison, they tested Eybna’s proprietary 30-terpene mixture known as NT-VRL™, CBD, and combinations of the two cannabis compounds. They used human blood cells, and a “Cytokine Storm Assay” from Cannasoul which Meiri reports is a well-established research tool to test for inflammatory conditions.
The results? As one researcher explained to Forbes, the results were “highly positive.” Out of the five combinations of cannabis-derived substances, all outperformed the anti-inflammatory properties of the steroid control. Of particular interest were CBD and the combination of CBD with the proprietary blend of terpenes. In comparison with dexamethasone, the CBD and NT-VRL™ blend was twice as effective. According to the preliminary (and yet unpublished) results, CBD and NT-VRL™ inhibited 90% of the tested cytokines.
Not the Only Study Exploring COVID and Cannabis
This study may sound like it is out of nowhere. But, Meiri’s team isn’t the only one suggesting cannabis may hold some answers for the COVID-19 pandemic. Global News reported in July that a husband and wife team out of the University of Lethbridge has big ideas about COVID and cannabis.
According to Drs. Igor and Olga Kovalchuk, who have developed more than 1500 strains throughout their research careers, certain strains demonstrate the potential to stop viruses from entering the body, and from propagating within the body.
The Kovalchuk’s research has identified two strains that help reduce the expression of a particular receptor called ACE2. This receptor is used by the virus to enter the cell. With lower expression, it becomes difficult for the virus to infect the body. The team discovered two CBD-rich strains that have reduced the infection rate by up to 75 percent. This preliminary work only uses human cell tissue. But it is another promising cannabis-driven lead in the global quest to treat COVID-19.
Positive Preliminary Results But A Long Way to Go
COVID and cannabis derivatives is an exciting but yet unproven treatment possibility. Meiri and his team have widely discussed the results of their study, but the study isn’t yet complete. It seems promising, but it hasn’t been published, peer-reviewed, or tested on real COVID-19 patients.
Work with CBD and terpenes is in the first stages of development. This is similar to many experiments currently going on around the world. If cannabis is to remain legitimate, it all needs to play out using proper scientific study standards. Accordingly, if CBD and other cannabis derivatives prove useful, this application could dramatically change the world’s perspective of this controversial plant. But if researchers don’t follow the right standards, or make claims before scientific proof, public opinion may swing. COVID and cannabis have a lot of potential, but much more study is necessary.
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|1.||↑||RECOVERY Collaborative Group, Horby P, Lim WS, et al. Dexamethasone in Hospitalized Patients with Covid-19 – Preliminary Report [published online ahead of print, 2020 Jul 17]. N Engl J Med. 2020;10.1056/NEJMoa2021436. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa2021436|