July 20th, 2024

U of L researcher studying benefits of cannabis extracts on COVID-19

By Jensen, Randy on April 24, 2020.

Igor Kovalchuk, University of Lethbridge biology professor and CEO of Pathway RX, has been conducting research on the effects of medical cannabis on COVID-19. Submitted photo

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


Preliminary research on certain cannabis cultivars shows that extracts made from these plant varieties may be beneficial to help the human body prevent COVID-19, or at least mitigate some of the worst effects of the disease which can lead to serious illness or death.

The research was undertaken by University of Lethbridge biology professor and Pathway RX CEO Igor Kovalchuk, and is a case of serendipity in action, he says.

“We have generated in the past four years thousands of hybrids, and extracted 500 cultivars and tested them for various (medical) properties,” he explains. “We already have a huge pile of data that we started to re-analyze, and we found several (CBD) extracts were able to decrease the amount of protein on the surface of the cells that is absolutely essential for the virus to get into the cell, replicate and basically infect the body.”

In laboratory trials the cannabis extracts were able to bolster the body tissue’s own defences and essentially block most of the pathways COVID-19 and other viruses use to access cells to begin their infection processes, Kovalchuk

If you have fewer cells and organ tissues available for the virus to use as incubators, says Kovalchuk, the theory is you might be able to prevent the viral infection in the first place, or, at the very least, be able to mitigate some of the severity of the disease upon the human body.

But, Kovalchuk stresses, that does not mean people should rush down to their local cannabis products store with the hope it will prevent COVID-19. His research group is years away from putting a viable product on the market, and only if clinical trials on humans can be expedited. Kovalchuk emphasizes that CBD and cannabis products currently on the market are not designed to fight viral infections, and may actually aggravate the severity of COVID-19 symptoms based on their chemical composition or mode of use.

“That (human trial) is basically the next stage, and we’re trying to reach out because we need partners who can do the clinical trials with us,” he says. “We need the attention of the government so they expedite our applications for grants so what we see in vitro actually works in three-dimensional human tissue the same way.”

Kovalchuk says it is possible other researchers may come up with a viable vaccine for COVID-19 before his product is ready for market. But, if what has been shown in laboratory trials to date proves out in full-scale clinical trials, says Kovalchuk, then what they create could likely be used for future coronavirus or other dangerous viral outbreaks in the future.

“First, a vaccine for COVID-19 is not a guarantee,” he states. “And second, if this extract does restrict the entrance of this coronavirus type (into human cells) it will also do so to others. Therefore, we believe our extract, in the form of oil, vapourizer, gargle, mouthwash and whatnot, can be used for any potential flu or coronavirus. It can be used for any type of virus in the future.”

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