COVID-19 and Medical Cannabis: An Ace(2) in the Whole?

Jun 4, 2020


As the world navigates a “new normal” due to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, people are seeking relief and have lots of questions about what the future holds. Will there be therapeutic options that adequately prevent or treat COVID-related illness? What will research show on supplements like vitamin D, vitamin C, and natural inflammatory agents? When might there be a safe and effective vaccine? What if I am not comfortable with any medication or vaccine? Fortunately, as we ponder these questions, there is increasing evidence that cannabis may be both a preventative and therapeutic wholistic option.

While we continue to take necessary precautions to protect ourselves and limit the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, we can rest assured that people around the globe are working on solutions and mitigations to this deadly disease. We recently learned of the interaction between SARS-CoV-2 and human Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 (ACE2), a protein on the outer surfaces of cells in the lungs, arteries, heart, kidney, and intestines. ACE2 serves as an entry point into cells for SARS-CoV-2.  According to research from a team from Canada printed in the online journal Preprints (Wang, et al., 2020), there are indications that cannabis extracts high in CBD could help prevent or treat coronavirus infections by limiting the entry points to the cells by virtue of ACE2. 

SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted primarily through exhalation of respiratory droplets with a potential for aerosol and contact spread. It is imperative to limit the virus’ use of the ACE2 gateways, both of our respiratory tract for initial infection, as well as our other cells to which the virus can spread. The initial data from the Canadian study suggested that some cannabis sativa strains, especially those high in CBD, suppress a critical protein required for the virus’ entry into host cells. The authors also mention that the researchers have developed over 800 new cannabis sativa lines and extracts that may modulate ACE2 expression in SARS-CoV-2 target tissues. In subsequent interviews with the Calgary Herald and CTV, two of the Canadian researchers who conducted the study, Igor and Olga Kovalchuk, have expressed confidence in certain cannabis strains that may have the potential to reduce infection by 70 to 80 percent. 

At this point we do not know which strains of cannabis will work best or what the ideal dose will be;  but considering the wonderful safety record of CBD, one could argue the benefits of using CBD far outweigh the risks when taking measures to minimize symptoms of COVID-19. In the meantime, we will carry on with the hope that whether the solution lies in the pharmaceutical  arena or the natural one, there will be better options in the future. For now, at least, legal users of medicinal cannabis and hemp derived CBD can get through these times with their currently available treatments.