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No, CBD won’t cure Covid. Here’s what that study actually found

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Pump the brakes before cannabinoids become the next Ivermectin.

The Haymaker is Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott’s opinion column on cannabis politics and culture.

A scientific study published on Monday in the Journal of Natural Products sent shockwaves through the cannabis industry—and in the space of 48 hours went from miracle cure to late-night comedy fodder.

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Here’s the fact: A team of researchers from Oregon State University and the Oregon Health & Science University reported that CBDA and CBGA inhibited the reproduction and spread of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus in early in vitro lab tests.

CBDA and CBGA are the raw forms of CBD and CBG. Both can be derived from federally legal hemp.

Related

What is CBDA (cannabidiolic acid) & what are the benefits of this cannabinoid?

The researchers found that these specific cannabinoids discouraged the Covid-19 protein from penetrating human cells. At certain levels of potency, CBDA and CBGA were able to reduce viral infections—in a petri dish—by half. The concentrations of CBDA or CBGA needed to block infection in actual humans by half “is high,” wrote the authors, “but might be clinically achievable.”

By Wednesday night, comedy writers had turned CBD into the next Ivermectin. This morning the New York Times comedy roundup included these gems:

“This would be interesting. All this time we’ve been listening to the C.D.C., we should have been eating CBD.” — Jimmy Kimmel

“You know, it’s funny — all these crazy cures, I’m like ‘Oh, that’s ridiculous.’ Ivermectin, the horse dewormer; bleach. And then somebody says marijuana prevents Covid, I’m like ‘Oh, really? Do tell.’” — Jimmy Kimmel

“In other words, the pot enters the body and asks Covid, ‘Are you a cell? You have to tell me if you’re a cell.’” — Stephen Colbert

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That escalated quickly

And thus, with the help of Stephen Colbert, an obscure lab test involving CBDA has become, in the mind of the general public, “pot cures Covid.”

Is the Oregon study exciting news? Sure. But hang on. Before you start freebasing CBD gummies , sit down and consider the full context of this news.

This wasn’t actually tested on people

First, understand what the researchers found and what they did not find.

According to the published article, this wasn’t a study of the scope you might be assuming. No humans were involved. The potential of CBDA to block the production of Covid-19 cells hasn’t even been tested on lab mice.

The Oregon researchers ran the known properties of CBDA and CBGA through a commonly used computer model. In other words, they matched the cannabinoids up against Covid-19 in a computer simulation.

After those results showed promise, the Oregon team conducted cell infection assays. In other words, they mixed live samples of the Covid-19 virus with CBDA, CBGA, or a neutral control in petri dishes. After 24 hours, the researchers found that the Covid-19 virus had reproduced at a significantly lower rate in the CBDA and CBGA samples.

THCA: Promising too

Here’s an interesting side note: The Oregon researchers reported that THCA, the raw form of THC, showed similar promise in their computer model. But because THCA is a federally illegal substance, and the scientists must abide by federal research funding rules at their institutions, they couldn’t move forward and test actual THCA in cell assays. THCA may be just as promising as CBDA and CBGA, but we don’t know because of federal marijuana prohibition.

The key word here is promising. Not proven. And even the word promising is a stretch. In scientific terms, the Oregon study is interesting—these findings are meant to spur further research, perhaps using lab mice. We’re miles away from studies that test the effectiveness of these cannabinoids in actual humans.

Of course, we don’t live in a normal world. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. Here in the United States, the right-wing hysteria machine has championed quackadoodle cures like Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine while ridiculing the scientifically proven Covid-19 vaccine.

We’ve seen this before

The Oregon study opens up great potential but also enormous risk. There’s risk to public health, as people who might otherwise get vaccinated instead start chugging CBDA oil. And there’s the risk that the very real promise of cannabinoid medicine could get lumped in with Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, and be written off as just another overhyped and ineffective miracle cure.

I’m reminded of the long-running debate over the potential of cannabinoids in the fight against cancer. There are those who champion high-dose cannabis, often in the form of Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), as a powerful cancer-fighting medicine. But some of the world’s leading cannabinoid researchers, Dr. Donald Abrams and Prof. Manuel Guzmán, pumped the brakes on the “cannabis cures cancer” talk back in 2020 in JAMA Oncology, one of the world’s most prestigious peer-reviewed cancer journals. 

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Can cannabis alone cure cancer? We asked oncologist Dr. Donald Abrams

Abrams and Guzmán didn’t dismiss the promising ongoing studies on cannabinoids and cancer, some of which are being conducted by Guzmán’s own lab. But the two scientists have learned, over decades of hard experience, that what proves promising in the lab doesn’t always pan out in actual human beings. I spoke directly with Donald Abrams about this two years ago.

“Things that happen in vitro, [i.e., in a lab dish], don’t necessarily translate into potential clinical benefits,” Abrams told me. “Taking cells in culture and adding chemicals to them is very different than digesting something in the human body. Humans have a digestive system, detoxification systems, and an immune system.” All of those things contribute to the interaction of a drug, the body, and cancer cells, Abrams said. “It’s much more complex than what you see in the test tube.”

Abrams has also seen the downside of overhyped and unproven cures. As an integrative oncologist in San Francisco, he sometimes encounters patients who have abandoned conventional cancer treatment in favor of a cannabis cure.

“I see patients who often have waited months to get an appointment with me,” Abrams said. “One of the most painful things I have to deal with are people who have a potentially curable malignancy who choose to forego conventional cancer treatment and instead choose to try to treat themselves with highly concentrated oils with either THC, CBD, or both.”

Sure, try CBD—and the vaccine

Buyer beware. The Oregon study should lead to more studies of the potential for cannabinoids—including CBDA, CBGA, and THCA—to prevent the spread of Covid-19 at the cellular level. But it shouldn’t lead you to forego a proven vaccine in favor of CBDA oil.

By all means, order up a supply of CBDA if you so choose. But don’t be one of those patients who disappoints Dr. Abrams by sabotaging their own survival. Get vaccinated too.


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Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

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Canada

How to get medical cannabis in Canada (from a licensed doctor)

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Canada authorized the use of medical cannabis in 2001, long before it became legal for adult use. But more than two decades later, there are still many misconceptions and questions about it. 

First, patients should know medical cannabis isn’t regulated the same way prescription medications are. In most cases, you can’t just walk into your family doctor or go to a pharmacy. But you can self-refer to a doctor who specializes in medical cannabis and register with as many mail-order providers as you need (free of charge). 

Since cannabis retail stores are plentiful, some patients don’t feel the need to see a doctor for their cannabinoid treatments. However, there are many advantages to using cannabis prescribed by a healthcare practitioner who is knowledgeable about its therapeutic uses.

Here are some benefits to a medical cannabis authorization: 

  • Physician guidance: When you’re prescribed cannabis, your treatment plan is tailor-made for you, taking into account your health issues, current medications, and level of comfort with cannabis. That takes the guesswork out of choosing the right dose, strain, or product. 
  • Workplace protections: A growing number of workplace insurance providers are covering medical cannabis used to treat conditions ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to multiple sclerosis and cancer. 
  • Tax deductions: Cannabis purchased through a licensed provider can be claimed as a medical expense on personal taxes. The provider must be on a Health Canada-approved list of medical practitioners.
  • Higher possession limits: The limit for buying and possessing recreational cannabis outside your home is 30 grams, but the law is different for prescribed cannabis. Because it’s considered a medicine, you’re allowed to possess 30 times your daily prescription limit or 150 grams, whichever is less. 
  • Personal protections: Many people who use cannabis for a medical purpose related to a disability are legally protected from discriminatory treatment in employment, housing, services and other areas. (Those who seek accommodation related to cannabis use because of a disability are often required to provide medical or other information to support their case.)
  • Compassionate pricing: People who are living on disability or are receiving aid from government subsidy programs are often eligible for compassionate pricing—which is a discount on producers’ cannabis products. Discounts commonly range from 10% to 30%. 

If you are using cannabis to treat certain conditions or side effects, it is wise to consult with a doctor who understands cannabinoid treatment, as well as any interactions with prescription medications. The majority of medical cannabis patients in this country started their journey at an authorized clinic. 

Interested? If so, see the answers to some common questions:

Where do I start? 

Contact one of the many specialty clinics that act as middlemen between doctors, patients and licensed producers. These clinics set up consultations with physicians who assess candidates for medical cannabis suitability then write prescriptions (i.e. medical documents) for those who are suitable.

These clinics also educate patients on how to use cannabis and register them with licensed producers, who then send the cannabis by mail. A patient can register with more than one licensed producer at a time but a separate medical document is required for each one. 

How do I know if a clinic is legitimate? 

Ashleigh Brown, CEO of SheCann, and a well-known medical cannabis patient and advocate, urges consumers to be mindful of the fact that licensed producers sell cannabis to patients who have prescriptions from authorized healthcare providers. Alarm bells should sound in your head if a clinic can’t help you get medical cannabis directly from a licensed producer. 

Also, “if a place is promoting a product and promising to send it to you, it’s not a legitimate clinic,” Brown says. “Clinics aren’t allowed to send or sell cannabis.”

In short, a place that will sell you cannabis directly is not a clinic. It’s a dispensary. 

Things a medical cannabis clinic should never do
1. Push patients to choose certain brands or products
2. Require urine tests
3. Charge to renew your authorization or change providers between renewals
4. Limit the number of providers you can choose
5. Cap how much THC you can use (without cause)
6. Revoke your medical document for purchasing cannabis from a retail store
7. Force you to share medical information with non-healthcare personnel at the clinic

How do I choose a producer? 

Many clinics will recommend one or more producers but the patient has the final say. “It’s often hard to decide,” concedes Brown, who takes cannabis to treat epilepsy. “If you’re unsure which producer would best meet your needs, get several medical documents then do some research. I’ve had as many as nine of those documents at one time.” 

What is the most important thing to know about becoming a medical cannabis patient?

“Access to medical cannabis is easier than ever,” says Brown. “Patients have a lot of choice in how to proceed with treatment — through authorized cannabis clinics or individual healthcare providers — so they should educate themselves about their options and their rights. 

“It’s not hard but it’s important,” she says. “What matters most is that you get an experienced doctor or nurse practitioner who will give you a detailed treatment plan with product suggestions.” 

Here are just a few reputable medical cannabis clinics:

Ekosi Health 

Winnipeg-based Ekosi specializes in delivering personalized cannabis therapies for a wide range of medical conditions. It operates in Ontario and Manitoba and is run by Dr. Shelley Turner, a primary care physician who is considered a trailblazer in the use of medical cannabis for addiction, sleep and mood disorders and chronic pain. 

Harvest Medicine

Harvest Medicine is a network of specialty medical cannabis clinics. The Calgary-based company provides in-person services in four locations in Alberta and the Maritimes and through a telemedicine platform called HMED Connect. 

Santé Cannabis

Santé Cannabis offers frontline services to patients in four locations in Quebec and through telemedicine. The company, which is based in Montreal, is recognized for offering clinical development and research services. 

The Herb Clinic (THC)

Located in St. Albert, the Herb Clinic (THC) provides a variety of services in the Alberta market, including cannabis prescriptions, education and data collection. It has created a community platform for patients and also provides services to those who grow their own cannabis, legally, at home. 

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Randi Druzin

Randi Druzin is an author and journalist in Toronto. She has worked at several major media outlets, including the National Post and the CBC, and has written for dozens of publications, such as The New York Times, Time magazine, ESPN The Magazine, and The Globe and Mail.

View Randi Druzin’s articles



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