Two chemicals produced by the various iterations of the cannabis plant are sought after by users. One is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive compound in the plant that produces a "high" in users. The other is cannabidiol, or CBD. Unlike THC, CBD does not produce a high. However, some users believe it can treat medical problems such as inflammation, anxiety, and other ills.
Researchers Olga and Igor Kovalchuk believe that CBD can be used as a tool against viruses. Specifically, the scientific literature appears to suggest that CBD could decrease the level of a certain gene, ACE2.
Olga Kovalchuk explained why that's important.
"If you think about our body as a house with a hundred doors and this ACE2 receptor being a doorway for the virus, [the pathogen] attaches to it, the receptor kind of brings it in."
If CBD can reduce the number of such "doorways," the researchers believe, then it could make it harder for SARS-CoV-2 -- the official name of the pathogen colloquially referred to as the "coronavirus" or the "novel coronavirus" -- to take hold in an individual.
"If we temporarily close these doors then there will be less virus that enters over a period of time," Olga Kovalchuk said.
Indeed, there appears to be precedent for CBD being effective against varieties of coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2 is one of several pathogens in the coronavirus family, and CBD does appear, in some medical literature, to be effective in preventing SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). SARS was first identified in the early 2000s, and is also caused by a pathogen in the coronavirus family.
If the researchers' suspicions are borne out by facts through clinical research and testing on human subjects, CBD could prove to an asset in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak. Specifically, CBD could be manufactured into a medical compound, such as a pill, and then distributed to users, who could take it prophylactically.
Of course, the Kovalchuks' research is preliminary and would require further testing followed by controlled, randomized clinical trials -- a process that costs money and could conceivably take years.
Still, the team is hopeful that they can secure funding and get further research -- including trials -- up and running quickly.
"We want something that any average Canadian, any average American can use," the researchers said.