Updated: Jan 24
A promising new study out of Canada offers data that some cannabis strains help reduce a specific type of inflammatory distress—called a “cytokine storm”—that proceeds severe cases of acute respiratory distress due to COVID-19.
In a study conducted by researchers at Pathway Research Inc., the University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge, scientists used artificial human skin, technically a “well-established full-thickness human 3D skin artificial EpiDermFTTM tissue model.” The skin tissue model was exposed to UV rays to cause “induced inflammation.” The model was then treated with seven different cannabis strains to see the efficacy in reducing inflammation.
The study found cannabis may “tame” or reduce the severity of COVID-19. One of the main causes of severe COVID-19 that proceeds acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is an influx of “pro-inflammatory cytokines,” which is also known as the “cytokine storm.” “Out of all cytokines, TNFα and IL-6 play crucial roles in cytokine storm pathogenesis and are likely responsible for the escalation in disease severity,” the study says. The treatment addition of cannabis extracts helps “curb inflammation and prevent fibrosis, and lead to disease remission.”
One of the studies’ main researchers, University of Lethbridge’s Department of Biological Sciences’ Dr. Igor Kovalchuk, told me that his team has studied the anti-inflammatory potential of cannabis for years. Were they surprised by the findings? “Not at all,” says Kovalchuk. “Before COVID, we have studied the anti-inflammatory effect of over 100 cultivars (preselected from nearly 800), and identified couple dozen with strong potential, and even filed several patents on them for use with RA, MS, intestinal, and skin inflammation, and oral inflammation.”
Kovalchuk, a pioneering researcher in epigenetics, had an idea of the type of cannabis cultivars that presented the most anti-inflammatory efficacy before the study began. The researchers then selected strains that would likely work best, “based on many years of research.”
“As to specific chemicals, our analysis shows that CBD or THC alone do not have the same effect,” says Kovalchuck. “We strongly believe in the full-spectrum, entourage-based effects. Likely, there are secondary (minor cannabinoids) and terpenes that contribute, and we write in the paper, that one of such terpenes could be caryophyllene.”
Out of the seven cannabis strains used in this study, three were deemed the “most effective.” According to the study, these three strains “profoundly” helped to reduce these inflammatory cytokine storms: “down-regulation of COX2, TNFα, IL-6, CCL2, and other cytokines and pathways related to inflammation and fibrosis.”
The three strains that presented the most efficacy in fighting this type of inflammatory distress were #4, #8, and #14. But these are not strains that you can go out and buy in stores, Kovalchuck says, as they are “proprietary cultivars, created in our lab, so they don't exist anywhere and don't have any other name yet.”
There is more information on the cannabinoid profile of each strain, though. The flower profile for each of the most effective strains: #4 contains 14.7% THC, 0.76% CBD, 0.1% CBGA, and 0.06% CBN; #8 has a cannabinoid profile of 14.72% THC, 0.14% CBD, 0.22% CBGA, 0.02% CBN; And finally, #14 has a cannabinoid profile of 21.5% THC, 1.35% CBD, 1.02% CBGA. The strains were concentrated into an extract that was used in the studies, which have even higher percentage profiles, as a graph in the study will break down for you: nearly doubling to #4 at 33.6% THC, #8 at 32.5% THC, and #14 at 44.3% THC.
The researchers conclude that these “anti-TNFα and anti-IL-6”, aka anti-inflammatory, cannabis extracts can be “useful additions to the current anti-inflammatory regimens to treat COVID-19, as well as various rheumatological diseases and conditions, and 'inflammaging' - the inflammatory underpinning of aging and frailty.”