Is Cannabis Antiviral? Here's what the research says in 2021
Medical Innovation during a Pandemic
The global pandemic on Covid-19 has undoubtedly changed the world as we know it. Throughout history, pandemics, such as the Spanish Flu, help to initiate significant innovation in health and general protection of the public. The 1918 Flu pandemic led to one of the most profound revolutions of public health. Before the spanish flu, most doctors either worked for themselves or were funded by charities or religious institutions. They had no flu vaccine, no antiviral drugs, not even any antibiotics, which might have been effective against the secondary bacterial infections that killed most of its victims (in the form of pneumonia). All of these things changed after the Spanish flu.
Antiviral is in Demand
Fairly new technologies such as specialized antiviral UV-C lighting may become a frequent sight in a post pandemic world. The devices can kill viruses with a single beam of light ~300nm in wavelength and leverage multiple angles and diodes to sanitize the surfaces of an entire hospital room. The machines clean more accurately than even the most diligent hospital nurses since they don’t miss any surface areas like the top of bed frames.
Many different kinds of medical vaccinations for COVID-19 are in progress, some of which include cannabis based active ingredients. Researchers in Israel have already begun studying a CBD based medication paired with a steroid. CBD is being used due to its ability to reduce the body's inflammatory response. In theory, CBD could reduce some of the symptoms of COVID-19 and allow the body to heal more quickly if inflammation is held in check.
While cannabinoids like CBD and THC dominate conversation, terpenes may actually be cannabis’s most promising compound when it comes to viruses. Oftentimes terpenes are not discussed in cannabis science, however they hold a great deal of medicinal potential and many have shown significant health benefits. Now terpenes are being talked about in the mainstream as they may be an option to treat Covid-19.
Research Studies on Terpene AntiViral Properties
Perhaps the most applicable research study supporting that terpenes may be effective against viruses like Covid-19 was conducted in 2008. The researchers leveraged essential oils high in beta-ocimene, 1,8-cineole, alpha pinene, beta pinene, and beta-myrcene. Two different mixtures of essential oils were reviewed, both of which showed AntiViral activity against HSV-1 and SARS-COV. Specific terpenes that came into contact with the SARS virus were found to reduce its severity and impact (both in-vitro and in-vivo) by withholding a certain protein that replicates the RNA – preventing it from penetrating healthy cells and using them as hosts for its replication.
Researchers Are Testing Terpenes for Covid-19
The cannabis terpene formulation is uniquely dedicated for the treatment and prevention of viral infections and is specifically designed for high-risk populations and treatment of infections such as the COVID-19 novel strain of coronavirus.
The novel formulation is designed to be consumed by direct inhalation.
CannaSoul Chairman, Professor Dedi Meiri of the Israel Institute of Technology, said: “Our lab has been approved to operate as a corona lab, and in doing so, we are promoting two studies based on existing cannabis studies.
“First, we will try to identify the plant’s own molecules that are capable of suppressing the immune response to the COVID-19 coronavirus – which causes inflammation and severe disease – to lower the immune system response without suppressing it, thereby providing better complementary treatment to the steroids, which completely suppress the immune system.”
The second study is looking at the ACE2 receptor – which allows the virus to inject its genetic expression into human cells and proliferate.
Meiri continued: “There is a process that examines the effect of cannabis molecules on proteins as well, and we are now examining which ones are relevant to the same receptor, with the goal of reducing its expression, making it difficult for the virus to enter the cell and proliferate.”
The studies hope to provide treatment for viral infections by modulating ‘Cytokine Storms’. Many COVID-19 cases have been linked to Cytokine Storm Syndrome where the immune system goes into overdrive, releasing too many cytokines, which are proteins important in cell signaling, all at once. This causes an attack on healthy lungs and can cause massive organ failure.
Smokers have contracted Covid-19 at a disproportionate rate
Another particularly interesting study currently underway in France may also support CBD, terpenes and cannabis use as a way to reduce exposure to COVID-19. The research is actually being conducted on nicotine as a potential COVID-19 treatment due to evidence that it may also modulate the ACE2 receptor and prevent cell entry. Charts of data by country all show similar results including the United States; smokers are less likely to become ill with the COVID-19 virus and less likely to have a severe case.
That’s all very interesting, but what if there was a link between cannabis use and cigarette smokers?
Could the two be linked?
Cigarette smokers are 10 times more likely to be daily marijuana users. While certainly nicotine could be responsible for the infrequency of cigarette smokers contracting Covid-19, maybe it’s that cigarette smokers tend to also smoke cannabis.
Nicotine being tested against COVID-19 in France
Certainly there could be a link between a lower rate of infection with cigarette smokers and cannabis use, however there are some promising results for nicotine to potentially block the ACE2 receptor similar to CBD. Below is an excerpt from the study being conducted in France:
There is however, sufficient scientific data to suggest that smoking protection is likely to be mediated by nicotine. SARS-CoV2 is known to use the angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor for cell entry[14-16], and there is evidence that nicotine modulates ACE2 expressionwhich could in turn modulate the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (manuscript submitted). We hypothesize that SARS-CoV2 might alter the control of the nicotine receptor by acetylcholine. This hypothesis may also explain why previous studies have found an association between smoking and Covid-19 severity[1, 9, 10]. As hospitals generally impose smoking cessation and nicotine withdrawal at the time of hospitalization, tobacco (nicotine) cessation could lead to the release of nicotine receptors, that are increased in smokers, and to a “rebound effect” responsible for the worsening of disease observed in hospitalized smokers.
France has the highest admitted cannabis use in Europe:
11% of the population in France admitted to using cannabis in the past year, suggesting there could be overlap between the cigarette smoking population and cannabis use. France has the highest admitted use of cannabis in all of Europe.
High CBD Sativa Strains Showed Positive Results Fighting COVID-19
Researchers at the University of Lethbridge looked at over 400 Health Canada-approved THC- and CBD-dominant strains, and found that 13 of them—particularly sativas high in CBD—can down-regulate the protein receptor ACE2, which is targeted by the coronavirus in the mouth, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and elsewhere in the body. Although the canadian study is not yet peer reviewed, the results are encouraging and the researchers are seeking Government funding to fully carry out their strains on a larger population.
Of the “strong cannabis strains” that showed positive benefits against Covid-19, there are most likely patterns of CBD content and terpene presence that the researchers have discovered. While the researchers haven’t provided us details of the strains that did show positive results, one may conclude that they were CBD strains high in terpenes found to be effective against the SARS virus back in 2008, since the viruses are structurally similar.
If this study does end up being accurate it could be a major win for the cannabis industry, but also for society as a whole. Many of the CBD products already available at natural food stores may work as moderately effective CoronaVirus medications, however not all of them. The CBD product will have to contain terpenes that have antiviral properties or they may not do much.
Terpenes That Have Shown AntiViral Properties:
Myrcene is a terpene found in cannabis as well as mangoes, hops, bay leaves, and thyme. We take particular interest in myrcene is due to research studies that have shown evidence of its anti-inflammatory and sedative properties.
Alpha & Beta Pinene
One of the most common terpenes found in cannabis, alpha-pinene can also be found in orange peels, pine needles, basil, parsley, rosemary and conifer trees. We take particular interest in alpha-pinene due to research studies that have shown evidence of its antidepressant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Limonene is a terpene found in cannabis as well as pine, citrus fruits and mint. We take particular interest in limonene based on research studies that have shown evidence of its anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties. Limonene was specifically shown to fight the herpes virus and has not yet been tested against SARS or COVID-19.
Ocimene is a monoterpene and is found in a variety of plants including hops, kumquats, mangoes, basil, bergamot, lavender, orchids, and a host of other plants. Frequently used in the perfume industry, ocimene is commonly used for its sweet and floral aromatic properties.
1,8-Cineole also known as menthol, is frequently found in cannabis. This terpene is responsible for the pleasurable and cooling scents found within eucalyptus, mint, rosemary, tea tree, mugwort, bay leaves, sweet basil, sage, and certain strains of cannabis. This organic compound was first identified by Francois Stanislas Cloez in 1870.
Cannabis May or May Not Play a Role in Coronavirus
While it is exciting that cannabis is being discussed as a potential coronavirus treatment, additional research needs to be conducted to validate it’s effects. If proven, we will undoubtedly see an explosion in novel cannabis products designed to fight COVID-19.
Products such as toothpaste and Mouthwash could help prevent entry by way of mouth. Hand sanitizer with CBD and antiviral terpenes may prevent the spread by way of touch. Specialized CBD tinctures may prevent its spread by way of the gastrointestinal tract. Additionally CBD vaporizers with the specialized terpene blend could prevent lung infection.
Not all of these products could be leveraged if a person were to contract a severe case of COVID-19 but they may act as protective measures. Additionally, once contracted, CBD and helpful terpenes could limit Covid’s inflammatory response, decreasing the symptom set and decreasing the recovery time from the virus.
While the list of potential innovative cannabis products is endless, this all means nothing until CBD and terpene effects on Covid-19 are proven using human clinical trials.
Stay Tuned as Additional Information Emerges
We will be keeping a close eye on the research surrounding cannabis and Covid-19 treatment and keep you informed as additional information emerges.