Do cannabinoids prevent or treat COVID-19?

Could cannabis users possibly be protected from the effects of COVID-19? Might cannabis be an effective treatment for the virus? There has been a lot of noise around this issue lately so let's break it down. What is the cutting edge of COVID treatment, and how do cannabis derivatives compare?

The most promising non-cannabis derived development in COVID treatment has been the corticosteroid Dexamethasone. Dexamethasone is a compound which is similar to those naturally produced by the human adrenal gland, is normally used as an anti-inflammatory drug. In a recent United Kingdom clinical trial called RECOVERY (details from the WHO can be found here), Dexamethasone was found to reduce the cytokine storm which ravages COVID sufferers by 36%. The result is a whopping 3rd lower mortality rate for those treated.


COVID enters the body through Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 (or ACE2 for short). ACE2 is an enzyme present in our lung tissue which acts as a receptor for the COVID virus to enter into the cell and replicate.

We often hear about proposed anti-inflammatory properties of high CBD cannabis strains. In fact, using cannabis derived compounds as novel anti-inflammatory drugs is a hot area of ongoing research. Unfortunately, due to the illicit status of cannabis in many jurisdictions it is difficult to conduct proper studies with high quality cannabis lines. A Canadian team at the Department of Biological Sciences of the University of Lethbridge, in Alberta Canada has looked closely at ACE2 and its relationship with cannabis. The Lethbridge team developed over 800 new cannabis sativa lines and identified 13 high CBD cannabis sativa extracts that modulate ACE2 gene expression and ACE2 protein levels.

The team used 3D models of human oral, airway and intestinal tissue in order to simulate the interaction between these proteins and compounds found within the cannabis extracts. These aren't software 3D models, but rather actual tissue cultured from human cells made by a company called MatTek. The tissue was exposed to each of the CBD + Terpene extracts for 24 hours before being flash frozen for RNA and Protein analysis.

The results were very compelling. Several of the 13 extracts selected for the Lethbridge study were found to down regulate (reduce) the inflammatory response of the model cells. This means that ACE2 sites were less available for COVID to use as an entry point into the body. It is important to note that the experiment was intended to model medical delivery, such as local mouth wash applications, encapsulated extracts and dosed oils, and inhalers or nebulizers. One shouldn't be quick to extrapolate on the effects of cannabis smoking, especially considering the clear correlation between tobacco smoking and worse outcomes for COVID patients. It is also important to note that the 13 lines selected for the study were bred to specifically express high CBD + terpene yields (only 2 lines had a THC percentage exceeding 1%); though, this was most likely an effort to focus on an end product which could be implemented anywhere commercial hemp agriculture is viable. With these caveats in mind, those who partake in (non-smoking) consumption of cannabis of relatively high CBD strains might find some comfort in an additional layer of protection against COVID during the pandemic.

Israeli researchers have begun clinical trials on novel ways of using CBD and other cannabis extractable derivatives in treating COVID. Terpene extraction company Eybna along with CannaSoul Analytics has shown significant effectiveness of cannabis terpenes in reducing inflammation. Early results have shown that Eybna's CBD + terpene formulation potentially outperforms Dexamethasone in reducing the COVID cytokine storm by 2x - 3x. The implication is that this cannabis cocktail might reduce the number of cases requiring ventilator support by 90%!

One of the most interesting things to come out of nearly all of these studies is that cannabis terpenes seem to play a critical role in the efficacy of treatment. In the Israeli study, it appears that terpene formulation accounts for nearly half of the improvement over dexamethasone! Further, it appears that modern science and medicine is just scratching the surface for the possible uses and interactions of these terpenes within the body. Hopefully the results from these studies and others will confirm that we have a viable COVID treatment at hand, and the results from previous studies will be reproducible and extensible into clinical use. While there remains much to learn about the medicinal properties of cannabis compounds, there appears to be little obstruction to the acceleration of the pace at which we improve our understanding in the near term.

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