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Gargling Marijuana?

When cannabis meets coronavirus.

We do live in strange times.

Every day a new coronavirus “breakthrough” is touted, or amazing data announced—even before it has gone through the so-called “peer review” process, which in turn will determine whether it is worthy of being published in a medical journal, or at the very least whether the conclusions made should have been made.

The latest amazing data, announced, but not published: Particular strains of cannabis that are high in cannabidiol decrease cells' expression of the gene for the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor that SARS-CoV-2 (the scientific shorthand describing the virus that causes COVID-19) uses to enter cells. Cannabis sativa, especially one high in the anti-inflammatory cannabinoid cannabidiol, has been proposed to modulate gene expression and inflammation and have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

So, what is the reader supposed to think? Not only has this research not been peer-reviewed, it was undertaken by cannabis companies. And while these scientists acknowledge that "our most effective extracts require further large-scale validation," they still go so far as to propose that the strains they have identified could be developed into preventive mouthwash and gargling products.

We do live in strange times.

We were told that marijuana smoking could put otherwise healthy lungs at risk for coronavirus infection. Now, we are being told, in a non-peer-reviewed manner, of course, that marijuana might just save us, even if it is not administered via a bong.


Of course, it would be wonderful if we could all gargle cannabis mouthwash to protect ourselves from COVID-19. But these experiments ― in cell models, not even animals — that do not directly test whether the cannabis strains prevent SARS-CoV-2 from infecting cells should not, and do not, allow us to even dream of something so miraculous, as it is so early in the clinical development of the product’s life cycle.

Further, there is the risk of being accused of blasphemy if we express our doubts when confronted by some media source that some scientist somewhere is on the cusp of a cure, but these cusps have appeared in the lay press virtually every day since the pandemic began.

Typically, a paper submitted to a journal is screened by its editors to determine if it meets formalistic technical requirements, and then it is forwarded to so-called “thought-leaders,” who have a few weeks to provide comments. Their feedback allows editors to make a preliminary decision about a paper's potential value. The authors may be given a chance to revise the paper, with the revisions again reviewed again by the external experts. Under optimal circumstances, the peer-review process takes several weeks. However, depending on the demands made by the reviewers, this could take much longer.

That time for review and reflection is not all that long. Maybe some of the more eager (or starstruck) scientists in the community should wait to see if their peers agree they really have a breakthrough on their hands before appearing on the morning shows.

Much of the rest of the country has learned to wait over these last couple of months.


Vanessa Monteil, Hyesoo Kwon, Patricia Prado, Astrid Hagelkrüys, Reiner A. Wimmer, Martin Stahl, Alexandra Leopoldi, Elena Garreta, Carmen Hurtado Del Pozo, Felipe Prosper, J.p. Romero, Gerald Wirnsberger, Haibo Zhang, Arthur S. Slutsky, Ryan Conder, Nuria Montserrat, Ali Mirazimi, Josef M. Penninger. Inhibition of SARS-CoV-2 infections in engineered human tissues using clinical-grade soluble human ACE2. Submitted to Cell, 2020 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.04.0044

Wang, B.; Kovalchuk, A.; Li, D.; Ilnytskyy, Y.; Kovalchuk, I.; Kovalchuk, O. In Search of Preventative Strategies: Novel Anti-Inflammatory High-CBD Cannabis Sativa Extracts Modulate ACE2 Expression in COVID-19 Gateway Tissues. Preprints 2020, 2020040315 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202004.0315.v1).