In the fight against Covid-19, cytokine storms are one of the most deadly factors that doctors are battling. This symptom in severe cases of the novel coronavirus can lead to excessive inflammation, swelling, pain, and loss of organ function. It can even cause the immune system to ramp up so much that it starts killing the body’s own cells – instead of just fighting the infection. In serious cases, this can lead to death, as we’ve seen in many cases of severe Covid-19.
In the last few months, researchers have been looking at whether cannabis, or it’s many chemical compounds, might help to fight this deadly effect by bringing down inflammation. Recently, we’ve seen positive results from studies suggesting that CBD, a compound in cannabis, may help fight these cytokine storms.
Now early results from an ongoing Israeli study are adding to the chorus of researchers suggesting that cannabis’ ingredients could be a game changing treatment in the fight against Covid-19. But this study says that terpenes, compounds that provide the aroma and flavor in cannabis and many other plants, may lead to even better results than CBD alone, and might outperform conventional treatments like corticosteroids. Reports from the study show that a combination of CBD with terpenes was 3 times more effective at inhibiting cytokine activity than dexamethasone, a corticosteroid which a recent study found to be an effective treatment for Covid-19 cytokine storms.
The new terpene study is being performed by two Israeli research and development companies, Eybna which specializes in terpene based medicines, and CannaSoul Analytics which is led by Prof. David “Dedi” Meiri, PhD a well known cannabis researcher and biochemist who has studied cannabis’ use for conditions like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. This new study was designed to find out whether anti-inflammatory terpenes might help bring down dangerous cytokine storms, and if they could, how they compared to other available treatments.
The study looks at a proprietary terpene formulation called NT-VRL™, which was created by Eybna to treat inflammatory conditions such as the cytokine storm syndrome found in Covid-19 patients. The formulation contains 30 individual terpenes that are potential anti-inﬂammatory agents, and considered generally safe for consumption.
Data scientist Nadav Eyal, who is Co-Founder & CEO at Eybna, explains that they utilized “biological data mining, data processing and formulation design” to create a “formulation effectively targeting specific health conditions” such as cytokine storms. He says that this method of development “is opening a new world for synergistically-effective natural formulations – holding therapeutic capabilities in which single Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients will have difficulties to match.”
In other words, while most medicines contain one active ingredient, this formulation contains 30 different ingredients all working together to create beneficial effects.
To test this terpene formulaton, researchers used a “Cytokine Storm Assay” from Cannasoul, which Dr. Meiri says is well-established and allows for the “evaluation of Cytokine Storm Syndrome.” Using human blood cells, the assay helps researchers to assess the effect of different treatments on cytokine secretion – the major factor in cytokine storms in severe cases of Covid-19.
Along with the NT-VRL™ terpene formulation, researchers also tested CBD, CBD with NT-VRL™, and Dexamethasone using this assay. Dexamethasone was included because it is a corticosteroid often used to bring down inflammation. In a recent study in the UK, it was found to reduce mortality by one third in hospitalized Covid-19 patients using ventilators. The World Health Organization is currently updating their recommendations to include using dexamethasone or other corticosteroids in severe cases of Covid-19.
Each compound was tested to see how it impacted cytokine activity, and the results are somewhat shocking. Not only was the terpene formulation able to inhibit the cytokine activity, (with better results using higher doses), but it also outperformed both CBD and dexamethasone. CBD alone inhibited around 75% of the cytokines on average, while the terpenes alone inhibited around 80%, suggesting that Eybna’s terpene blend may be even more effective than CBD for inflammation reduction.
Still, the best results came from the combination of CBD and the NT-VRL™ terpene formulation, which was able to inhibit around 90% of the tested cytokines. In comparison, dexamethasone was only able to inhibit around 30% of the cytokines, suggesting that the combination of CBD and terpenes may be 2 times more effective than the current recommended treatment.
“The preliminary results were highly positive,” explains Eyal, adding that they are “demonstrating significant anti-inflammatory activity of terpenes and breaking the perception that terpenes are just flavorings and fragrances compounds with a placebo effect.”
Still, while this in-vitro study offers important insight into the potential to use terpenes and CBD in the fight against Covid-19, it’s important to note that these results are coming from an ongoing study that has yet to be completed, peer reviewed or published. These results still need to be reviewed and validated by the larger scientific community, but if they prove to be accurate, they could offer impetus for human trials looking into whether this combination of CBD and terpenes actually works for patients with Covid-19 related cytokine storm syndrome.
An earlier version of this piece mistakenly reported that the results of the study suggested CBD and the NT-VRL™ formulation were 3 times more effective than dexamethasone, rather than 2 times more effective.