The headlines were eye-popping.
In fact, you might almost say they were too good to be true.
SOUTHERN ALBERTA RESEARCHERS SAY MEDICAL CANNABIS COULD HELP FIGHT COVID-19.
CANNABIS MIGHT BLOCK COVID-19 INFECTION
Yes, and I could, I might, have a rich benefactor who dies and leaves me the Apple stock she bought in 1982. Pleasant to think about, but nothing I can take to the bank.
The study referred to in those click-bait headlines was not peer reviewed, nor has it been published in a medical journal, so it’s actually more of a trial balloon than an express-train to better health.
The balloon was launched from the University of Lethbridge, in Alberta, Canada, propelled aloft by the researchers Olga and Igor Kovalchuk. The latter is CEO of Pathway Rx, a cannabis research company. (No relation to NatuRx, if you’re wondering.) The so-called study was also backed by Swysh, Inc., a company that focuses on oral cannabinoid therapies. Both are seeking a piece of the $1.1 billion the Canadian government has set aside for COVID-related research. That’s a lot of dollars, even if they are the Canadian kind, sometimes referred to as “loonies,” because of the quavery-voiced bird featured prominently on the one-dollar coin.
And this is where my own voice begins to quaver a bit, loon-like, because I’m not in position to peer-review the Kovalchuk’s work. The mechanisms they cite sound promising enough, given lots more research and, if warranted, clinical trials. Essentially, the Kovalchuks propose that the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD just might prove therapeutic to mouth, lung, and intestinal tissues that are ravaged by COVID-19. In particular, they cite ACE-2 receptors, which are the swinging doors of coronavirus infections, allowing pathogens to enter cells and replicate. Cannabinoids also bind to ACE-2 receptors, which might close some of those doors and theoretically limit infections.
Now all we have to do is find out a) if that’s true, b) determine which strains are most effective at closing those doors, and c) conduct several years worth of clinical trials on critters, and eventually humans, to see if it’s actually safe and effective to quash COVID-19. Keep and eye on Donald Trump’s Twitter feed; he could be featuring the new “cure” any day now, now that bleach and hydroxychloroquine have been debunked.
If you dive into the pre-publication link, above, you’ll find a load of researchers questioning the study-to-be, which researchers tend to do when they see “results” which may actually just be shaking the trees for corporate funding. $1.1 billion would help with that, so you can’t really blame the Kovalchuks for their attention-seeking behavior. “Hey Canadian government! Pick us! Pick us!”
According to press accounts, the Kovalchuk’s research came after COVID-19 had already knocked over the world’s economic sand castle. Olga and Igor had been researching therapeutic applications of various cannabis strains since 2015, and decided to review past results to see if any of it might be repurposed for the plague of the moment. "It was like a joker card, you know, coronavirus” Olga told CTV News. “It just mixes up everybody’s plans."
Clearly the joker mixed up theirs, as they’re now striving to harness the sprawling endocannabinoid system to address a very specific condition. According to news accounts, Pathway Rx has investigated a thousand strains to determine their efficacy in treating disease, and only a very small number of them showed promise.
Which ones? They’re not ready to say.
But it implies a long slog at the dispensary, or in your backyard grow, to test all 1,000 on your own. Better to wait until there’s definitive news on COVID-19 and cannabis, and, you know, wash your hands a lot.
And while you’re at it, wash your hands of preliminary research that emerges into the world before its usefulness is clear.