Marijuana research

Cannabis For Covid? Research to Lookout For in 2021

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  • Cannabis research into COVID-19 and its symptoms is growing – it could help reduce severe respiratory inflammation and anxiety-related disorders
  • Research in Australia shows cannabis is effective against treatment-resistant bacteria  – could help fight off MRSA, meningitis, and gonorrhea
  • A German study suggests cannabis might be a solid treatment for Parkinson’s disease (PD) 
  • Cannabis may help reduce opioid dependency and addiction — medical marijuana reduced opioid use from 28% to 11% in patients over six months
  • A landmark bill has passed to reduce research restrictions and allow private cannabis manufacturing for research purposes

Cannabis use and research in 2020 has set the stage for 2021

Cannabis use went up in 2020

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced its iron grip tighter as the year went on. Millions of people sent into lockdown, isolated from the outside world and confined to the four walls of their apartments and houses. As a result, many turned to cannabis and cannabis-derived products. They became the ultimate “in case of lockdown, break glass” method of self-therapy, providing users with much-needed euphoric respite from the mounting pandemic strains and pressures.

According to a Brightfield Group survey launched in November 2020, 81% of respondents consumed cannabis to help alleviate daily pandemic-related problems. This was reflected in the growth of cannabis products designed primarily for relaxation and stress-relief. 

Hilariously, cannabis products positioned for health, wellness, and beauty didn’t do quite as well. No surprise there! Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, will we expect to see more and more cannabis users in 2021? Many predict we will, especially with more US states legalizing medical and recreational marijuana, as well as the hope of cannabis reform. 

Cannabis research slowed but still produced fascinating results

COVID-19 didn’t just stop the lives of the global population. Universities and research centers were also stifled by the restrictions, slowing cannabis research quite significantly compared to 2019. 

However, there were several research efforts into how cannabis can help you, particularly for COVID-19 and its symptoms. So, what’s in-store for 2021?

The cannabis spotlight will shine on COVID-19 in 2021

Cannabis to help treat COVID-19? Maybe.

Researchers are working hard to determine how cannabis consumption can ease physical, psychological, and physiological symptoms. Many studies are preliminary but very promising. 

How cannabis could help you with Covid-19 in 2021 

Cannabis may help you weather inflammatory lung “storms” caused by COVID in 2021

Severe COVID-19 produces what’s known as “cytokine storms”, otherwise known as excessive inflammation of the respiratory system responsible for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). 

ARDS causes the build-up of fluid in the lung’s air sacs (Alveoli). This fluid prevents adequate oxygen from entering the lungs, leading to breathing and organ failure. It’s the most common cause of death in people with COVID-19.

Unfortunately, cytokine storms (and eventually respiratory failure) are difficult, if not impossible to treat. Cannabis, however, offers a glimmer of hope. 

How cannabis may help treat COVID-19 cytokine storms

Cannabis has proven anti-inflammatory qualities. Many of its valuable plant compounds work together in synergy to manage inflammatory symptoms and reduce inflammatory responses. Cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as well as terpenes such as myrcene and caryophyllene, are proven to combat inflammation. 

Therefore, cannabis as a solid treatment for cytokine storms isn’t a far-fetched idea. 

Researchers were unable to use human lungs or tissue. Instead, a “well-established full-thickness human 3D skin artificial tissue mode” with human-derived skin cells was used to almost replicate a human lung. The model was then exposed to UV light to induce inflammation that was then treated with seven types of cannabis extracts.

The researchers discovered three of the seven extracts were effective and reduced cytokine activity quite profoundly. The inhibition of two cytokine molecules (TNFα and IL-6) is the most noteworthy. Both molecules are primary targets for COVID-19 and ARDS development.

In other words, cannabis was able to reduce cytokine activity, leading to a reduction in severe respiratory inflammation. 

It’s no secret hemp-derived CBD products can help alleviate fear, panic, stress, and anxiety problems.

Decades of research and anecdotal evidence suggests CBD, as well as a number of other hemp-derived chemical compounds, can reduce panic and fear symptoms by nourishing your endocannabinoid system

A new, first-of-its-kind clinical study on how CBD oil may help treat panic attack-related fear is set to launch sometime in 2021. 

The specific purpose of this study is to determine whether CBD can “interfere with the reconsolidation of naturally acquired pathological interoceptive fear memory in humans”.

Participants will be given a 300mg dose of CBD oil during the “memory reactivation” stage, where they’ll be asked to write down their worst fear, recite it, and listen to it back via audio. They’ll then be asked to do it again with a placebo dose and a highly-purified 300mg dose of CBD oil for stage two and three, respectively. 

If successful, this study could open up the possibility for CBD oil to be used for symptoms of panic disorder, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

THCP for future use in 2021?

In the closing few days of 2019, a group of Italian scientists published evidence of a powerful new cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabiphorol (THCP) believed to have more affinity with your cannabinoid receptors than CBD and THC combined. 

The research team believes THCP is 33 times more active on your CB1 receptor and approximately 5-10 times more active on your CB2 receptor. Why? Its chemical structure is similar to THC but has 7 alkyl side-chains, as opposed to 5. 

Simply speaking, the more side-chains there are, the more effective the cannabinoid will be at interacting with your receptors. 

Little is actually known about how THCP works in your body but we can assume good things based on prior knowledge and research. 

Higher activity at your CB1 receptors may prove useful for anti-stress, anti-anxiety, relaxation, pain relief, and anti-inflammation. Higher activity at your CB2 receptors may support your immune system and prevent inflammation. 

Only two THCP-centered products are currently available on the market. Supposedly legal on a federal level because they’re derived from hemp. We’re not 100% how legitimate they are. The Certificate of Analysis (COA) shows no trace of THCP in the extract. 

Cannabis as a potential antibiotic in 2021 (gonorrhea, be gone!)

An Australian collaborative research effort conducted by The University of Queensland and Botanix Pharmaceuticals Limited discovered something truly astonishing. Synthetic CBD is able to combat treatment-resistant bacteria responsible for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), meningitis, legionnaires, and gonorrhea. 

This is good news for Australia, especially on the gonorrhea front. Gonorrhea is the second-most common sexually-transmitted disease in the country (behind chlamydia) and incidences have increased quite significantly over the past 20 years. There is no consistently reliable single form of treatment available. 

Phase 2a clinical trials will launch sometime in 2021 in the hopes it will provide a clearer picture. If successful, CBD-infused antibiotics for MRSA, meningitis, legionnaires, and gonorrhea might be available in the future. 

Cannabis as an effective treatment for Parkinson’s disease symptoms?

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive and degenerative neurological disorder. Nerve cells (neurons) in the brain responsible for producing dopamine slowly deteriorate and die, causing problems with movement and speech. Early symptoms include slight tremors or shaking, typically in one hand. Mild stiffness, slow movement, and slurred speech are also symptoms. 

As it progresses, symptoms worsen. Advancements in medication have helped sufferers reduce symptoms but there’s currently no cure. 

However, a recent German survey on medical cannabis for Parkinson’s disease (PD) and its symptoms is promising. 

More than 1,300 members of the German Parkinson Association were questioned. Over half the respondents said medical cannabis consumption provided positive clinical benefits. 

Other notable results include:

  • Over 40% of respondents reported cannabis helped manage pain and muscle cramping
  • Over 20% of respondents reported cannabis helped reduce anxiety, depression, restless legs, and akinesia (loss of movement ability)
  • Cannabis with high-THC content more likely to help patients akinesia and stiffness
  • 65% of non-medical cannabis users stated they were interested in using cannabis but feared negative side-effect, citing a lack of prior knowledge and education

The authors of this study believe the results warrant further investigation via carefully controlled clinical trials to determine cannabis treatment efficacy and safety. Unfortunately, clinical trials on the efficacy and safety of cannabis for PD symptoms are essentially non-existent. 

Could this survey push for clinical trials in 2021? We hope so. 

Across the world, there’s a prescription opioid epidemic. The US, Canada, and several parts of Europe have seen a sharp rise in prescription opioid use for pain and pain-management not related to malignant disease. Illicit and illegal opioid use has also risen. 

In the US, 450,000 people died from an opioid overdose (illicit and prescription) between 1999 and 2018. At least 128 people die every day from opioid abuse. 

In Canada, prescription opioid pain-killers were used by nearly 12% of the population (roughly 4.5 million) in 2020. There were 2,913 opioid-related deaths in 2019. The BBC reports British Columbia was one of the worst-hit provinces for opioid-related incidences with over 900 deaths in 2020 alone.  

Combined, the US and Canada have seen a 14-fold increase in prescription opioid use over the course of twenty years. 

Fortunately, a new Cansdian study suggests medical marijuana use drastically reduces opioid dependency and improves overall quality of life. The study involved 1,145 patients across 21 Canadian medical clinics. 

Key findings from this study:

  • Medical marijuana treatment caused a drop in opioid use from 28% to 11% over a six month period
  • Daily opioid dosage dropped significantly from 152-milligram morphine equivalent (MME) to 32.2 MME over the course of six months (a 78% reduction)
  • Use of non-opioid pain medication, anti-seizure drugs, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines also went down as a result of medical marijuana treatment
  • Improvements in physical and psychological quality of life were noted among participants. Social relationships also improved. 

The changing of the guard, federal cannabis legalization, and the hope for less restrictive cannabis research in 2021

The US Presidential Election welcomed in a more pro-cannabis stance

The tail-end of 2020 sparked optimism in the cannabis industry. Ex-Republican President Donald Trump was voted out and in came Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, both open supporters of US cannabis reform on a federal level. 

Biden has openly suggested decriminalizing cannabis use across the country. He also wants to move it from a Schedule I to a Schedule II narcotic. Quite small steps in the larger scheme of things. Not quite full legalization but a promising start to the proceedings. 

Harris, on the other hand, is far more forward-thinking and progressive with her cannabis views. She shares the same decriminalization sentiments as Biden, promising not to half-step the marijuana reform debate. She co-sponsors the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, a piece of federal legislation looking to deschedule and remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and authorize numerous social and criminal reforms. 

US states also passed ballots to legalize cannabis use

On the state level, the US Presidential Election also saw five new states successfully pass cannabis legalization ballots:

  • South Dakota (recreational cannabis use and medical cannabis program legalization)
  • Mississippi (recreational cannabis legalization)
  • New Jersey (recreational cannabis legalization)
  • Arizona (recreational cannabis legalization)
  • Montana (recreational cannabis legalization)

As it stands, 15 US states + D.C. have legalized recreational cannabis use for adults 21 and above. 36 states have legalized medical marijuana. South Carolina is looking to legalize it in 2021. The majority of the US population now has access to some form of cannabis. 

A landmark bill has already passed to expand medical cannabis research

In December 2020, the House of Representatives passed the Medical Marijuana Research Act to significantly expand medical cannabis research, while reducing barriers and hurdles researchers face.

According to its sponsors, the bill seeks to:

  • Create an easier registration process, reduce approval times, and remove 
  • Permit private manufacturing and distribution of medical marijuana for research
  • Make it easier for licensed researchers to obtain medical marijuana via overall manufacturing and distribution reform

In other words, this bill (if successful) will open up newer possibilities for researchers by allowing more access to medical cannabis without heavy restrictions and permitting licensed researchers to conduct studies without unnecessary, costly, and timely regulatory processes.

How federal cannabis reform or legalization may affect cannabis research in 2021

Easing of bureaucracy and restrictions

Pro-cannabis government officials and advocates hope this changing of the guard will help ease restrictions on cannabis research, especially if cannabis reform or legalization gets passed through the Senate. 

Currently, cannabis research is heavily governed and regulated. Researchers are weighed-down by bureaucracy and must obtain approvals from federal, state, and local bodies or institutions before any research can even commence. Incredibly time-consuming and oftentimes de-motivating. 

If cannabis is removed from the Controlled Substances Act, the weight of bureaucracy will need to be addressed and/or lifted, allowing researchers to study cannabis without the burden of overwhelming third-party restrictions.

Fewer synthetics

As it stands, cannabis researchers are largely limited to using man-made, synthetic cannabinoid equivalents, as opposed to a fuller spectrum of natural compounds from an equally fuller spectrum of natural cannabis products. 

If researchers want to get their hands on natural, whole-plant cannabis, they’ll be met with strict application processes from various regulatory bodies.

If that wasn’t already a kick in the teeth, researchers are also limited to cannabis grown by the University of Mississippi (under a contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse). Very few (if any) sources of natural cannabis exist. 

Many researchers have even complained about the quality of the Mississippi cannabis, believing it carries mold and other unwanted bacteria, as well as very limited cannabinoid levels. 

This lack of diversity and quality, alongside harsh bureaucracy, has led to a jaded and frustrated research community. 

If cannabis legalization goes ahead in 2021 (or later), researchers will most-likely ditch the synthetics and be able to source high-quality, research-ready cannabis from multiple sources.