Cannabis and Coronavirus: Pandemic, Fires, Floods Set Stage for Election

NATIONWIDE – Hopes for a September 21 congressional vote on a bill that would decriminalize cannabis were dashed after House aides reported the vote had been postponed until after the 2020 presidential election. The MORE Act, which was introduced to Congress by vice presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), has been pushed to the background in what promises to be a contentious fight for the presidency.

The postponement may not be surprising, in light of how many crises have converged on the United States with little more than a month until Election Day, November 3.

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Fierce flooding has punctuated a record-breaking hurricane season in the southeast. Wildfires in the west have burned more than 1 million acres across California, Oregon, Colorado, and Washington State, effecting several legendary cannabis-growing regions.

Rates of infection and response to the coronavirus crisis vary from state-to-state, and globally, leaving economic re-opening efforts delayed and uncertain, with most public health experts predicting the situation is likely to last through 2021, before a vaccine might allow daily life to normalize somewhat.

In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, hemp growers had some good news from the United States Agriculture Department (USDA) in the way of federal pandemic relief from the USDA Farm Service Agency’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP2). Ineligible for CFAP1 relief, which was distributed to farmers in the spring, hemp growers were included in the second stimulus package after USDA officials were lobbied by hemp industry members and trade associations.

Cannabidiol, aka CBD, continues to be researched for its purported anti-inflammatory properties—more and more data suggests CBD extract (typically derived from hemp) could play an important role in treating extreme inflammation that often effects patients with advanced COVID-19.

Ontario, Canada-based biotechnology company Cardiol Therapeutics Inc. announced on Friday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its Investigational New Drug (IND) application for CardiolRx™, a pharmaceutical formulation that treats inflammation in cardiovascular disease and also may show efficacy in treating cardiac inflammation associated with COVID-19.

The company will stage double-blind clinical trials with 422 patients suffering from COVID-19. Some patients will receive a placebo, while others will receive the “pharmaceutically-produced, extra strength cannabidiol formulation.”

“Receiving approval from the FDA for our IND application to initiate a clinical program in COVID-19 patients represents a major milestone for Cardiol Therapeutics and provides the opportunity to significantly accelerate the commercial development of CardiolRx,” Cardiol Therapeutics President and Chief Executive Officer David Elsley said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is providing our Company with a unique opportunity to rapidly study the cardioprotective properties of CardiolRx in patients who have a prior history of, or risk factors for, cardiovascular disease and are most vulnerable to the virus,” he added.

Pharmaceutical cannabis company Pascal Biosciences Inc., based in Vancouver, Canada, on Wednesday announced it had “confirmed an earlier report that certain cannabinoids block replication of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.” The newest data indicates potent antiviral properties of the specified cannabinoids could help shorten patients’ recovery period.

The company worked with four independent laboratories, including Southern Research, Institut Pasteur Korea, and two independent University of Washington academic groups, to test its cannabinoid compounds. Researchers compared the cannabinoids efficacy in tests to Remdesivir, an approved pharmaceutical drug currently being used to treat the virus in COVID-19 patients.

“We previously reported that our preliminary results would be confirmed with additional assays, and these studies validate our plans to develop a cannabinoid treatment for COVID-19,” Pascal Biosciences Chief Executive Officer Dr. Patrick Gray said. “Other groups have suggested cannabinoids such as CBD could benefit COVID-19 patients because of its immunomodulatory activity. We believe Pascal is the first to demonstrate direct antiviral activity for a cannabinoid.”

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a rise in rates of depression and anxiety, a situation that is particularly troubling for patients who suffered from these conditions before the pandemic.

San Diego-based medical advocacy nonprofit Wholistic Research and Education Foundation (Wholistic) announced it will sponsor a first-ever exploratory survey on the efficacy of CBD and cannabis for anxiety relief. The survey will be conducted by the University of California, Irvine (UCI), in partnership with UCLA’s Institute for Prediction Technology (UCIPT).

Wholistic said the Cannabinoid Anxiety Relief Education Study (C.A.R.E.S.) would “reach millions of CBD and cannabis users across the U.S. to assess the potential role of cannabinoids in reducing anxiety and other co-morbid conditions, such as insomnia and depression.”

“We’re in the midst of a massive uncontrolled human experiment, with tens of millions of Americans turning to CBD and cannabis for anxiety relief,” said Pelin Thorogood, co-founder and president at Wholistic. “Given the lack of rigorous, controlled clinical trials on CBD or cannabis efficacy for these widespread conditions, it’s critical to collect real-world data (RWD) at scale, across diverse demographics, to learn directly from the experiences of actual users. C.A.R.E.S. will do just that, while also establishing the foundational groundwork that will inspire and guide others to follow suit. We’re deeply appreciative of our generous donors and survey-distribution partners for enabling this first-of-its kind study with UCI and UCIPT and look forward to sharing what we expect will be invaluable findings on the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids for anxiety and insomnia.”

The survey will be distributed by Wholistic and several of its cannabis community partners, including ProjectCBD.org, CBDOilReview.org, Trailblazers Presents, Aeon Botanika, OpenNest Labs, and Vertosa.

For more information or eligibility requirements, visit the survey webpage.

The pandemic has impacted every aspect of daily life for many, especially for industries heavily reliant on trade shows and live events for networking and promotion. Conventions and seminars have been cancelled since March and the beginning of the pandemic, and now largely take place online through group chats held on Zoom and other online meeting platforms.

European event organizers from the World Class Business Leaders Institute, though, have announced plans for a hybrid medical cannabis trade show event, which will have a limited number of tickets for in-person attendees, as well as tickets for virtual attendees. The institute said it held its first post-COVID live event successfully in July, in Leipzig, Germany.

“The Cannabis Business Europe 2020, on December 10 and 11, in Frankfurt [Germany] will bring together key players from all over Europe and beyond, from companies such as RegPak BioPharma, CannaPhytica BioMed, Cannamedical Pharma, HHH Hemp Harvesting Technology, Sanity Group, Cannabis Partners, The Cannabis Fund, Aphria Deutschland, Zenabis, and many others presenting their case studies at this event,” trade show organizers said.

Despite what feels like a different disaster everyday to some, global cannabis markets have shown remarkable “resilience” in the face of unprecedented challenges, according to an op-ed written by eminent cannabis attorney Robert Hoban for Forbes.com.

The founder of Hoban Law Group gave an assessment of cannabis supply and demand in current global markets, and predicted that even though challenges around regulatory policies and free trade still present difficulties in several countries, cannabis is a commodity that’s “here to stay.” Hoban also pointed out that hemp will see increased demand as the raw material for CBD oil and extracts, among other industrial uses.

“During a time when our world economy has been shaken to its core, here is a commodity that has proved its resilience. Cannabis is essential and it is here to stay,” Hoban wrote. “If you ask me, the case for a global cannabis industry could not be more compelling. The next step, of course, is to get the world in tune from a regulatory perspective. This is critical so that we can achieve the free flow of cannabis goods and services, no different than other global commodities, like coffee and flowers.”

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