Ever since scientists reportedly explored the deterrent effects of nicotine in preventing the coronavirus, potheads probably figured it was only a matter of time until somebody did the same for marijuana.
Now, a team of researchers in Calgary told a local TV station that their research into local strains of marijuana shows "promise."
The husband-and-wife team say they've been researching potential medicinal properties of marijuana for more than five years, but started to 'pivot' their research once the coronavirus came on the scene.
Olga and Igor Kovalchuk have been working with cannabis since 2015, using varieties from around the world to create new hybrids and develop extracts that demonstrate certain therapeutic properties.
"There’s a lot of documented information about cannabis in cancer, cannabis in inflammation, anxiety, obesity and what not," says Igor. "When COVID-19 started, Olga had the idea to revisit our data, and see if we can utilize it for COVID.
"It was like a joker card, you know, coronavirus. It just mixes up everybody’s plans," says Olga.
She says they started to examine the special proteins, or receptors, that the virus hijacks to enter the body, and they’ve now submitted a research paper studying the effects of medical cannabis on COVID-19.
"We were totally stunned at first, and then we were really happy," says Olga.
Specifically, the researchers at the University of Lethbridge suspect that certain anti-inflammatory high-CBD cannabis extracts can help modulate the levels of the receptors in the mouth, lungs and intestinal cells, areas that are among the most vulnerable for coronavirus infection. Previous research has shown that some of these strains can "modulate" the activity of a receptor known as "ACE2", which other researchers have shown might be a critical gateway for the virus.
One of the receptors, known as ACE2, has now been shown to be a key gateway, to how the COVID-19 virus enters the body.
"The virus has the capacity to bind to it, and pull it into the cell, almost like a doorway," Olga says.
Other key receptors allow the virus to enter other cells more easily and multiply rapidly. But some cannabis extracts help to reduce inflammation and slow down the virus.
"Imagine a cell being a large building," says Igor. "Cannabinoids decrease the number of doors in the building by, say, 70 per cent, so it means the level of entry will be restricted. So, therefore, you have more chance to fight it."
The early discoveries indicate the cannabis extracts could be used in inhalers, mouthwash and throat gargle products for both clinical practice and at-home treatment.
The Kovalchuks haven’t tested the effects of smoking cannabis and say you won’t find any of these extracts at your local weed store.
"The key thing is not that any cannabis you would pick up at the store will do the trick," says Olga.
They have now submitted a paper explaining their data and proposing a clinical trial. Unfortunately for smokers, the extracts that the two have been studying are extremely peculiar: they have very high concentrations of CBD, and extremely low levels of THC - the active ingredient in marijuana that produces the "high" in the user.