With the current COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), there is an urgent need for new therapies and prevention strategies that can help curtail disease spread and reduce mortality. The inhibition of viral entry and thus spread is a plausible therapeutic avenue. SARS-CoV-2 uses receptor-mediated entry into a human host via the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which is expressed in lung tissue as well as the oral and nasal mucosa, kidney, testes and gastrointestinal tract. The modulation of ACE2 levels in these gateway tissues may be an effective strategy for decreasing disease susceptibility. Cannabis sativa, especially those high in the anti-inflammatory cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD), has been found to alter gene expression and inflammation and harbour anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. However, its effects on ACE2 expression remain unknown. Working under a Health Canada research license, we developed over 800 new C. sativa cultivars and hypothesized that high-CBD C. sativa extracts may be used to down-regulate ACE2 expression in target COVID-19 tissues. Using artificial 3D human models of oral, airway and intestinal tissues, we identified 13 high-CBD C. sativa extracts that decrease ACE2 protein levels. Some C. sativa extracts down-regulate serine protease TMPRSS2, another critical protein required for SARS-CoV-2 entry into host cells. While our most effective extracts require further large-scale validation, our study is important for future analyses of the effects of medical cannabis on COVID-19. The extracts of our most successful novel high-CBD C. sativa lines, pending further investigation, may become a useful and safe addition to the prevention/treatment of COVID-19 as an adjunct therapy.
Keywords: ACE2 receptor, CBD, COVID-19, SARS-CoV2, medical cannabis