With every country across the globe now scrambling to find a vaccine or pharmaceutical drug to prevent, treat, or even cure COVID-19, there now seems to be more of a focus on the unconventional: cannabis.
Working under the Health Canada research license, a team of researchers at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, may just be one step closer to finding out if cannabis can join the fight against the virus. “But how?”, you might be thinking to yourself.
Well, before we get into that, let’s first look at what COVID-19 actually is and what it does to the body.
What is COVID-19 and What Does It Do to Our Bodies?
COVID-19 is a severe respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus
The coronavirus has affected over 4.5 million people globally
The disease is spread through spitting, coughing, sneezing, as well as being in close proximity to others
It enters into the nose, throat, and eyes
It mostly affects the respiratory system — mainly the lungs
It attaches itself to your body’s ACE-2 receptors and infiltrates your cells
This leads to inflammation and cell death
Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the middle of the desert with no TV or internet, you’ll already know a little bit about what COVID-19 is.
Besides being a monumental pain in the ass, COVID-19 is a severe respiratory disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus — otherwise known scientifically as SARS-CoV2. To date, the virus has affected over 4.5 million people, killing roughly 300,000.
The virus is thought to spread through infectious respiratory droplets when another person coughs, sneezes, or spits in your general direction — or through close human-to-human interaction. Touching your face after touching an infected person or contaminated surface also increases the likelihood of catching the virus.
Once the novel coronavirus enters your body through either the eyes, nose, or throat, it primarily attacks the lungs and respiratory system, as well as other parts of your body such as the kidneys, liver, and intestines.
In other words, it does an absolute number on you.
The way it attacks the body is quite complex and still somewhat unknown, so we’ll keep it simple for you.
Imagine the novel coronavirus is a ball with spikes on it. This ball then travels into the body and latches on to what’s called your angiotensin-converting enzyme II (ACE-2) receptors. It will then start infiltrating your cells, causing inflammation and cell death. The first and most affected organ in your body is the lungs.
When this happens, you get all the nasty symptoms you’ve heard about on the news — bummer.
So, how does this tie in with what the Alberta researchers are trying to uncover? Let’s take a look.
What Did the Alberta Researchers Uncover?
The Alberta team developed 800 varieties of cannabis
They focused on a dozen high-CBD varieties
These varieties were injected into artificial 3D model human tissue with ACE-2 receptors
73% of ACE-2 receptor activity was reduced
Cannabis shows promise in not allowing coronavirus to latch onto human cells
Some evidence shows reducing ACE-2 receptor activity may increase severity of virus
According to the study conducted by the Alberta team, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, they developed 800 different varieties of cannabis, though only a dozen were focused on.
They then injected each strain into artificial 3D models of oral, airway, and intestinal tissues containing ACE-2 receptors to see if it reduced its activity.
Now, here comes the interesting part.
In an interview with the Calgary Herald, the head honcho leading the Alberta team, Dr. Kovalchuk, states a number of the cannabis strains injected into the tissue significantly reduced ACE-2 activity by roughly 73%.
In other words, reducing the activity of ACE-2 receptors could mean there’s not as much wiggle room for the virus to play with.
Kovalchuck then goes on to state the high-CBD cannabis strains used in the study could be “a useful and safe addition to the treatment of COVID-19 as adjunct therapy” in the form of mouthwashes and throat gargle products.
But there’s a catch…
Before we start believing cannabis is a foolproof plan to tackle COVID-19, we can’t ignore some of the science stating potential flaws in the Alberta team’s hypothesis.
There’s some scope to suggest reducing ACE-2 receptor activity may actually leave patients more exposed to COVID-19 complications.
Let’s look at the elderly as an example.
Elderly people are far more likely to experience severe symptoms and/or mortality as a result of COVID-19. Why? Because of increased vulnerability to inflammatory diseases such as diabetes and hypertension that may significantly reduce ACE-2 activity.
Children, on the other hand, are far less likely to experience severe symptoms at the hands of COVID-19 due to substantially higher numbers of ACE-2 receptors — as well as stronger immune systems.
So, the question is…
Does the Alberta team’s hypothesis ring true if ACE-2 reduction potentially increases the severity of symptoms?
This is something that clearly needs more clarity. For now, cannabis as a preventive measure against COVID-19 could very well be plausible. However, we certainly need more concrete evidence on how the virus actually works in the body and how ACE-2 receptors respond to the virus.
We’ll definitely keep you updated as this story continues to unfold!