After five months of the pandemic, more than 26 million people testing positive for coronavirus and about 870,000 deaths worldwide, the main objective of the scientific and pharmaceutical sector globally is to find a vaccine and cure for Covid-19. Dozens of existing have been tested for the treatment of this disease, including Remdesivir (initially marketed by Gilead for the treatment of Ebola and HIV) and hydroxychloroquine (for the treatment of malaria), tocilizumab (an anti-inflammatory) and odexamethasone (an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive). In this race for the key to the coronavirus cure, cannabis has been no exception.
Published on 8th July by the Georgia Medical College at Augusta University, the latest study states that CBD can help prevent lung damage caused by Covid-19. Titled "Cannabidiol Modulates Cytokine Storm in Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Induced by Simulated Viral Infection Using Synthetic RNA", the study advocates that the main cause of death in severe cases of Covid-19 is acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). A ‘cykotine storm’ is caused as the immune system responds to the inflammation caused by the virus. Replicating this effect in the lungs of mice, scientists analysed levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, oxygen levels in the blood before and after treatment with CBD, and temperature, checking how oxygen levels increased while temperature and cytokines decreased.
The mice used in the study received three once-a-day doses of Poly (I:C), the genetic material of the coronavirus. Two hours after the second Poly treatment, the mice’s abdomens were injected with CBD; this was repeated every other day for a total of three days. "Both clinical symptoms and pulmonary physical changes resulting from ARDS were reversed with CBD treatment," the study’s authors state.
This isn’t the first study conducted on cannabis treatments. In April, another study by scientists from the universities of Lethbridge and Calgary in Canada claimed that cannabis could be used as a way of preventing the spread of coronavirus. The study, which hasn’t been subjected to peer-review (an evaluation carried out by one or more people with similar expertise to those of the authors, serving as a form of self-regulation of scientific publications), affirms that CBD could regulate the activity of the ACE2 enzyme, preventing the virus from entering body tissues.
However, Project CBD, a non-profit platform dedicated to promoting and disseminating research on the medicinal uses of this cannabis substance, points out that many studies are still needed to confirm that cannabis can help combat ARDS (as stated by the study from Georgia Medical College). In addition, it’s suspicious of the study on the use of cannabis to prevent coronavirus in an article written by a molecular biologist that it published. Firstly, it stresses that as the scientific article published in Canada hasn’t been subjected to peer review, “this means that scientists and clinicians will not take these results very seriously, and with good reason. These are only preliminary results and should not be confused with a legitimate scientific study.”
But the pro-CBD platform also points out the conflict of interest between the authors of the study defending the preventative use of cannabis: “All authors resident in Canada - including Dr Igor Kovalchu, CEO and main shareholder of Alberta Research and Development (Swysh Inc.) - have conflicts of interest (which they reveal at the end of the article) as Pathway Research and Swysh are startups committed to the cannabis and cannabinoids sector.”
In fact, almost as a form of advertising, more than half of the Canadian article is dedicated to highlighting the 800 new derivatives and extracts of cannabis sativa developed under licence by Health Canada. “Pending further research, extracts from our most successful and innovative high-CBD cannabis sativa lines can become a useful and safe complement to the treatment of Covid-19, and as joint therapy. They can be used to develop easy-to-use preventive treatments for Covid-19 in the form of mouth and throat rinse products for clinical and home use,” explains the abstract. "Given the current serious epidemiological situation and its rapid evolution, all possible therapeutic opportunities and avenues must be considered," it concludes in an argument to legitimise its products as anti-Covid remedies.