Certain hemp cannabinoids have the power to block SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – from entering human cells, new research has shown.
Let’s get in here early to say that this study has only been carried out in the lab, not humans, and there’s nothing to suggest using cannabis will boost your immunity against COVID-19 – unfortunately, it’s nowhere near that simple. With that out of the way, the new research does suggest that some of these compounds could potentially pave the way towards some interesting antiviral treatments in the future.
The study was recently reported in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Natural Products.
Scientists at Oregon State University used a special chemical screening technique to sniff out certain cannabinoids found in hemp (Cannabis sativa). To their surprise, they found that a pair of cannabinoid acids – cannabigerolic acid or (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) – bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in vitro.
The spike protein is a key part of coronaviruses used to hack into human cells, so binding and obstructing it could block the process the virus uses to infect people. To test out this idea, the researchers placed CBGA and CBDA in a petri dish with a bunch of human epithelial cells. When they introduced a SARS-CoV-2 spike protein into the mix, they noticed that cannabinoids prevented the entry of live SARS-CoV-2 into the human cells.
“Any part of the infection and replication cycle is a potential target for antiviral intervention, and the connection of the spike protein’s receptor binding domain to the human cell surface receptor ACE2 is a critical step in that cycle,” Richard van Breemen, lead study author and a researcher with Oregon State's Global Hemp Innovation Center, said in a statement.
“That means cell entry inhibitors, like the acids from hemp, could be used to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and also to shorten infections by preventing virus particles from infecting human cells. They bind to the spike proteins so those proteins can’t bind to the ACE2 enzyme, which is abundant on the outer membrane of endothelial cells in the lungs and other organs," explained van Breemen.
Once again, don’t be under the illusion that smoking pot and consuming edibles will definitely have any of these effects. CBGA and CBDA will not make you feel high, as the main psychoactive effects of cannabis come from THC.
However, these two cannabinoid acids are very well tolerated by humans, meaning they have little to no negative side effects, and they’re not controlled substances. Much more research is needed – it’s also noteworthy that the research only looks at the effects of CBGA and CBDA on the alpha and beta variants, not the delta and omicron variants, which are now the most prolific strains of the virus. All caveats aside, the researchers claim these cannabinoid acids have so far shown potential as some kind of antiviral treatment for COVID-19
“These compounds can be taken orally and have a long history of safe use in humans,” van Breemen explained. “They have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2. CBDA and CBGA are produced by the hemp plant as precursors to CBD and CBG, which are familiar to many consumers. However, they are different from the acids and are not contained in hemp products.”