Cannabis may help COVID-19 patients weather the storm, study shows
A new Canadian study seems to have discovered a way cannabis extract can benefit those suffering from COVID-19. This study, which was published January 19, shows that the anti-inflammatory properties of some cannabis strains can reduce the severity of “cytokine storms” caused by the virus.
A cytokine storm is a specific type of inflammatory distress. People who have COVID-19 may experience a cytokine storm before they develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which can lead to death. According to the study, cytokine storms and ARDs have been well documented in SARS, MERS, and severe influenza cases, but doctors still don’t have effective treatment options to offer their patients.
In an effort to find an effective treatment, researchers from Pathway Research Inc., the University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge used ultraviolet (UV) rays to cause inflammation in artificial human skin. Then, they applied extracts from seven different strains of cannabis to see which strains were best able to reduce the inflammation.
Some of the researchers had reportedly been studying the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis for years. This seems to have helped make it possible for the researchers to choose which cannabis strains out of more than 200 options would most likely be successful in the study.
This prior cannabis research also helped scientists better understand the results of the new study. Three specific cannabis strains stood out as the most effective against cytokine storms — #4, #8, and #14.
“We found that extracts #4, #8, #14 significantly down-regulated cytokine-cytokine receptor interaction pathway, rheumatoid arthritis pathway, chemokine signalling, Toll-like receptor signalling, JAK-STAT signalling and other pathways involved in inflammation, immunity and autoimmunity, as well as tissue remodeling and fibrosis,” the study said.
Dr. Igor Kovalchuck told Forbes that consumers are not able to purchase these strains because they are “proprietary cultivars, created in our lab, so they don’t exist anywhere and don’t have any other name yet.” Kovalchuck, who works in the University of Lethbridge’s Department of Biological Science, is one of the main researchers involved in this study.
It is important to note that a full spectrum extract of each cannabis cultivar was used to achieve the beneficial results. This means that all of the biologically active compounds found in the cannabis cultivars, such as THC, CBD, CBGA, and CBN, were concentrated into the extracts.
“[O]ur analysis shows that CBD or THC alone do not have the same effect,” Kovalchuck reportedly said. “We strongly believe in the full-spectrum, entourage-based effects. Likely there are secondary (minor cannabinoids) and terpenes that contribute, and we write in the paper, that one of such terpenes could be caryophyllene.”
It is also important to know that only certain cultivars were effective. The study states that some of the cannabis extracts that were tested had strong anti-inflammatory effects, some of the extracts only affected certain cytokines, some didn’t cause any change, and one extract even promoted expression of pro-inflammatory genes.
“This is a very important finding that shows that cannabis is non-generic,” the study says. “Indeed, cultivars have unique profiles of cannabinoids and terpenes that can potentiate each other, and hence extracts of different cultivars may have different medicinal properties, even though the ratios of major cannabinoids (THC and CBD) may be similar.”
This study is important to the hemp industry and the world at large because it appears to have discovered a potential treatment option for those suffering cytokine storms.
This research also discovered a need for many additional studies into the medicinal properties of cannabis. It shows that each cannabis cultivar will need to be evaluated individually for its potential medicinal properties, that the roles of terpenes on inflammation merits further study, and that cannabis extracts should be analyzed for their potential to mitigate inflammation in rheumatologic conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.
The study also calls out the need for expanded research on extracts #4, #8, and #14 in a lung model system. This would likely need to happen before anyone can expect to see cannabis prescribed to treat symptoms of COVID-19.