Health experts and scientists across the globe have been searching for vaccines, treatments and cures to combat the novel coronavirus. Now, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine are looking to cannabis plants for possible answers.
Ciaran Skerry, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at UMB, is leading a newly launched lab-based study to investigate whether cannabidiol (CBD), an ingredient of cannabis, has anti-viral effects on cells infected with Covid-19. The researchers will use a proprietary CBD formula produced by Baltimore-based firm bioRemedies MD to examine interactions between CBD and the respiratory disease, and determine whether CBD may be used as an effective treatment.
CBD is derived from the hemp plant, a kind of cannabis which unlike marijuana does not have the psychoactive effects produced by high THC levels. Hemp has grown in popularity among farmers and health and wellness retailers in recent years. Its ingredients, including CBD, can be used in a variety of consumer products, including cosmetics, biofuel and food. CBD is purported to have various health benefits, including the reduction of depression and anxiety, but scientific research validating such benefits has been limited to this point.
Dr. John Dombrowski of bioRemedies MD said it is “essential” for CBD companies like his to contribute to pre-clinical and clinical research.
“CBD will not be recognized as a therapeutic treatment for diseases and conditions without performing the critical research,” Dombrowski said in a statement.
Skerry’s team will primarily be studying CBD’s potential usefulness as an anti-inflammatory agent. Covid-19 causes aggressive inflammatory responses in infected patients, causing damage to the airways and potentially leading to acute respiratory distress or respiratory failure. Respiratory failure is the reported cause of death in approximately 70% of Covid-19 fatalities. Skerry’s previous research work has shown that CBD had certain anti-inflammatory effects against bacterial infections.
The new study follows on the work of Canadian researchers at the University of Lethbridge. Their recent non-peer-reviewed study, published in the Preprints journal, showed that CBD could help block ACE2, or the molecule that Covid-19 disease uses to enter a person’s cells and spread infection.
The Maryland-based study will attempt to further determine if CBD can reduce the activity of ACE2, and also if CBD could be used to help “protect against the excessive inflammatory responses to the virus associated with lung damage and death,” Skerry said in a statement.
Patrick Kelly, managing member for bioRemedies MD, said the Baltimore company is proud to partner with UMB’s School of Medicine on this new research effort.
“As I like to say, it’s ‘all hands on deck’, for every facet of science to defend individuals during this pandemic. We are truly all in this together,” he said in a statement.