Lansterdam in Review: Michigan State University 

Is cannabis the cure for the coronavirus? 

MSU professor: No — but it could help with some side effects.  

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Recreational marijuana has certainly taken the spotlight off the medical side of the industry over the last few years. Sales for adult-use products routinely outpace their medicinal counterparts. Fewer and fewer patients are bothering to apply for or renew their medical marijuana licenses. 

And this month, state officials also rolled back the requirement that recreational retailers also obtain a medical license, opening the first door to standalone adult-use pot shops in Michigan. Some advocates fear it could represent the death knell for the therapeutic side of the market. 

But at Michigan State University, at least one professor is keeping focused on the medicinal benefits of certain cannabinoids — particularly those that could help reduce inflammation. And his research suggests it could potentially help with some of the long-term effects of COVID-19. 

First, some clarity: “We don’t have enough information to suggest it would be a positive thing to consume cannabis if you have COVID-19, especially smoking. This is really more about specific compounds that are well characterized and could, potentially, down the road, become useful for certain conditions,” said Norbert Kaminski, a pharmacology and toxicology professor at MSU.  

Kaminski — in addition to having a great last name unrelated to this writer — has been studying since the early 90s the mechanisms by which certain cannabinoids, the chemical constituents of cannabis, affect the immune system. And of more than 100 varieties that have been identified, his research shows that a few may be useful in curbing the body’s inflammatory response. 

In partnership with the biopharmaceutical company GB Sciences, Norbert has been working in recent months on isolating and studying the effects that certain cannabinoids can have on modifying that immune system response, ultimately reducing the body’s natural instinct to swell. Among the possible treated ailments: Long-term lung inflammation triggered by the coronavirus. 

“It’s a small part. Our interest in cannabinoids is much broader than just COVID-19,” Kaminski added. “Our interest is really on how these certain compounds can modulate the immune system. And what we’ve found is that several of these can be good anti-inflammatory agents.” 

Kaminski said some non-psychoactive chemical compounds found within the cannabis plant, when isolated, can effectively focus its effects entirely on the body’s immune system rather than the nervous system. That natural immune response to infection, in some cases, can create inflammation. Certain cannabinoids, instead, can tell the body to chill out and stop the swelling. 

“White blood cells release large amounts of protein that can not only affect the immune system, but the tissues where the response occurs. In some severe cases of COVID-19, that response is essentially recruited to the lungs and that response can actually cause some real damage.” 

With declining caseloads and rising vaccine rates nationwide, Kaminski hopes his research won’t necessarily need to be put to use to help coronavirus patients. Still, these cannabinoids have the potential to treat other ailments — including HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder. 

“I get ribbed a little bit by some folks,” Kaminski said when asked if his status as an acclaimed marijuana researcher carries certain stigmas. “People have joked, saying they want to volunteer for our studies. Nowadays, I think people mostly view this just the same as any other resource.” 

I also had to ask: Does MSU have a secret stash of research pot? Kaminski said his research funding from the National Institute of Health allow him access to a variety of scheduled substances that can be ordered from a federal repository. And we’re not talking bags of bud. He said his samples often come in a liquid or powder form with purity rates up to 99.9%.  

No. Kaminski didn’t offer me any samples. I guess the family name doesn’t carry much weight. 

Kyle Kaminski is City Pulse’ managing editor and a cannabis enthusiast who has been smoking marijuana just about every day for the last decade. Almost weekly, Kaminski samples some of the best cannabis products available in Greater Lansing, or covers important issues pertaining to the cannabis industry as a whole. 

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