Can cannabis combat COVID-19?
A team of researchers from Canada have identified at least 13 strains of Cannabis sativa that could help treat and even prevent COVID-19 infections. The team carried out experiments that indicated these particular strains of cannabis make it more difficult for SARS-CoV-2 to latch on to cells, preventing infection with COVID-19.
We have known that cannabis can fight off viral infections for a number of years. Earlier research carried out in the aftermath of the SARS outbreak in 2002 revealed that specific terpenes found in cannabis are highly effective antiviral agents.
The Canadian COVID-19 study was published online a month ago, and really got people talking. The research director of the study, Professor Igor Kovalchuk, posted an interesting comment in response to a critical comment: “We have never stated that CBD is being responsible for decreasing ACE2 protein, as we simply don’t know it. What you are right about is that the effect is likely not due to CBD alone and yes, future research will include more lines, with broader spectrum of cannabinoids.”*
With this comment, Professor Kovalchuk highlights how little the scientific community knows about the effects of cannabis. They know it has an effect, but it still is not clear exactly how or why. He also draws attention to the importance of considering the entourage effect – a term used to describe how, when we consume a plant such as cannabis, the combination of all the substances in the plant can have a more pronounced effect than the individual substances in isolation. In other words, it is not just the CBD in hemp that is responsible for its positive effects, but the complex interactions between the CBD, THC, terpenes and flavonoids found in the plant.
So can cannabis combat COVID-19? A lot of evidence points to this being the case, but more research needs to be carried out to determine which substances in the cannabis plant are responsible.
* Igor Kovalchuk’s original comment, 25 May 2020.