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Exclusive with Lethbridge Doctors who recently were featured on Forbes for ground breaking work

ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) occurs when lung tissue is attacked, this is the main cause for people needing to be placed on a ventilator. We see this happening in multiple illnesses; extreme influenza, MERS, SARS, and now COVID. All of these illnesses can create fibroids which is when we see lung tissue turn to scar tissue. This is irreversible. In some COVID-19 cases we see that the immune system becomes overstimulated and begins to attack the body, this is known as a cytokine storm. As noted above, this is when we may see ARDS.

The University of Lethbridge is making headlines with its new study that shows real potential with using medical cannabis to prevent contracting COVID-19. Dr. Igor Kovalchuk and Dr. Olga Kovalchuk have created over 1,500 different cannabis strains which are being tested on artificial 3D human tissue. Thanks to previous studies that the Kovalchuk team had been doing (anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging) prior to the pandemic breaking out they already had great information on the properties of several cannabis strains. “We would treat various cells or tissues with cannabis extract and look at the gene expression pattern.” Says Dr. Olga Kovalchuk. “All the data was already there so if we take a look in our data bases maybe we could figure out some of the genes that are important basically for COVID and its effect.”

As two new strains of COVID have been discovered in the U.K. and Brazil (Ace2 and TMPRSS2). The science behind these strains of COVID are proteins stored in a cell’s membrane and act as a key entrance point for COVID-19. Using high doses of CBD from sativa is making it far more difficult for the virus to take root after it enters the body.

“A number of them (Cannabis strains) have reduced the number of these (virus) receptors by 73 per cent,” Igor Kovalchuk says. “The chance of it getting in is much lower… If they can reduce the number of receptors, there’s much less chance of getting infected.”

After this great find they decided to expand their project. Through continued testing they were able to determine that not only was high-CBD C. Sativa able to aid in the prevention of Covid but was also able to modulate the immune responses making sure that “The immune system doesn’t go into overdrive.” Thus avoiding ARDS. Olga does state however, that cannabis is not a treatment substitute for COVID but could be used as additional treatment.

In an interview with Forbes Igor made an important statement. “It reduces the possibility to get infected. I never said it would prevent or block it entirely. It is a possible treatment. A treatment is not a cure. When they say it treats COVID , or can potentially treat COVID they are absolutely right.”

The numbers are still uncertain for how much C. Sativa would be needed to provide the general public with their product but Kovalchuk sees this as an opportunity for our province. “We see a lot of potential for this crop for Alberta. We really need to start thinking about economic diversification. This is one of the very important crops that has so many potential uses… For farmers, this crop can be so beneficial. It could honestly become the next important cash crop.”

This is easy to see as the cannabis flower itself can be used for medicine as “there are so many compounds to it; cannabinoids, turbinoids, bioflavonoids”, etc.. The fibers could be used as a new way to create textiles and possibly concrete, the possibilities are endless.

Dr. Kovalchuk is passionate about the medicinal properties that strains of cannabis hold.

“We are trying to develop a medication. People use it (cannabis) recreationally, which is ok, their choice. Unfortunately people just see it as an excuse to smoke pot, but we are trying to create therapies.” said Kovalchuk. “There are so many drugs on the market that cause dependency; opioids and even anti-allergy meds, but do we single them out? No, we don’t… Very unfortunate that we see this stigma that comes from addiction here.”

Kovalchuk and team take the safety of their products very seriously and verify that it will only be available to those of legal age based on legislation in each juristiction. It is important to note that some of the strains of cannabis being tested are actually being used recreationally by the public. It’s also worth mentioning that just reaching for any cannabis product will not help keep COVID at bay, nor will it help in treating COVID. Pain staking measures have been taken to determine exactly which strain will work best.

Currently high-CBD cannabis particularly C. Sativa has more beneficial properties than the others.

For example,the type of human tissue used during research is actually similar to the same technology used to grow skin for a skin graft. The team can actually cause inflammation within the tissue and then apply different extracts. They were able to identify that some reduced inflammation whereas others had no affect. This is proof that not all strains can be used for the same thing and should be used wisely.

Although the results have been impeccable both of the Dr’s. are currently trying to seek clinical trials. Although they have already been published in an international journal called Aging. A research paper has been submitted and reviewed by peers, which will then finally be published. When this happens then Dr. Olga and Igor’s research can receive more clinical tests. The findings of which could lead to over the counter products for personal use such as medical inhalers, gel capsules, oil, or possibly even a transdermal patch. Currently their team has partnered with a company in the U.S. who has begun using their research to test a mouthwash method of use. These options would in turn, make this treatment far more accessible and affordable to the general public.

Unfortunately there are few more hoops to jump through in Canada to be able to move to human clinical trials. Even though some of these strains are already being used or consumed by the public recreationally, to be able to put a label on these strains as an aid to COVID prevention, the Kovalchuk team would still have to go through several weeks of animal clinical trials to be granted permission to test on humans… because that makes sense. Especially since the current COVID vaccines, which are completely new to the market, were allowed to skip animal testing and go straight to human testing.

Human testing is absolutely crucial as it would allow for the professors to answer some of their own questions about this project. Which method of use is the most effective? Which age does it work the best for? How much is a dose? How much THC should be in the product to still be effective in prevention but not cause impairment? What would be the best partner for this method of treatment?

With fingers crossed, we are hoping that this study gets to proceed in a timely manner. As Dr. Olga Kovalchuk said, “This could be a very effective made in Canada solution; a made in Alberta solution.

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