Cannabis is associated with a number of health benefits but its psychoactive nature has always made it’s status controversial. Many countries are legalizing cannabis but it is still a long way to go for changing its status. A new study by some Canadian researchers has shown that Cannabis sativa or cannabis extracts change the receptors of a cell which makes it hard for the coronavirus to enter. It means that cannabis usage can prevent COVID-19 in people.
Coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2 is the name given to this virus which is behind this deadly pandemic.
This research was a collaborative effort between the University of Lethbridge and Pathway Rx Inc., which analyzed 23 different cannabis extracts on artificial models of the human airways’ cells, oral cavity cells, and intestinal cells. the complete study findings are published in the journal Aging.
Out of these 23 extracts, 13 were able to change the expression in host cell receptors (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 or ACE-2), which coronavirus uses to enter inside the cell. The research teams observed how this gene regulation of the ACE-2 receptor site is down-regulated by a number of cannabis Sativa extracts to reach a final conclusion.
This ACE2 receptor targetted by this study is used by all coronaviruses including the latest one SARS-CoV-2 to access the host body. These receptors are found in a number of body tissues including the nasal, GI tract, lungs, and kidney tissues. If a person has a high ACE-2 expression in the respiratory tracts, there are more chances for him to contract COVID-19 and experience severe complications.
If there is a way to down-regulate the receptor, hindering the viral entry, it can be a helpful strategy to lower the risk of COVID-19 in highly vulnerable groups.
There plenty of data that confirms the potential of cannabidiol (CBD), a naturally occurring compound in the cannabis plant. The previous research primarily focuses on its ability to change gene expression. It is a natural anti-inflammatory, a pain-relieving agent which can also inhibit cancer growth. But there is no study on cannabis changing the expression of ACE-2 to prevent COVID-19.
Usually, inflammation is one of the characteristic response of all viral disease, the study initially tried to know if cannabis can help to relieve inflammation in COVID-19 patients. But not only it can lower the inflammation, but it can also change the ACE-2 expression, reducing the risk of COVID-19 complications.
But the model used in this study was artificial and it is not tested on real patients. This model was not triggered by internal inflammation. The study team used the Western blot method to shortlist six cannabis extracts which worked the best for ACE-2 expression.
These findings provide a solid base for studying cannabis further. There is a high probability that cannabis pay changes the disease progression in COVID-19 patients as well as other related viruses that use this ACE-2 receptor for entry in host cells.
In case these results are confirmed in the future, the CBD-rich cannabis extracts can be used as a part of preventive strategies for coronavirus especially for high-risk patients.