Some cannabis compounds can prevent the virus that causes COVID-19 from entering human cells — but smoking marijuana offers no protection against the illness, according to a study by Oregon State University.
The researchers found that a pair of hemp compounds — cannabigerolic acid, or CBGA, and cannabidiolic acid, CBDA — bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, blocking a vital step in the deadly bug’s path to infect people.
“These cannabinoid acids are abundant in hemp and in many hemp extracts,” said lead researcher Richard van Breemen at Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center in the College of Pharmacy and Linus Pauling Institute, KTVZ reported.
“They are not controlled substances like THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and have a good safety profile in humans,” he said.
“And our research showed the hemp compounds were equally effective against variants of SARS-CoV-2, including variant B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the United Kingdom, and variant B.1.351, first detected in South Africa,” Breemen added.
Findings of the study — which was conducted in collaboration with scientists at the Oregon Health & Science University — were published Monday by the Journal of Natural Products.
“Orally bioavailable and with a long history of safe human use, these cannabinoids, isolated or in hemp extracts, have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2,” the researchers wrote.
“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,” van Breemen said.
He, Ruth Muchiro of the College of Pharmacy and Linus Pauling Institute and five OHSU scientists identified the two cannabinoid acids using a mass spectrometry-based screening technique invented in van Breemen’s lab, according to KTVZ.
His team screened a variety of botanicals used as dietary supplements including red clover, wild yam, hops and three species of licorice, according to the news outlet.
“One of the primary concerns in the pandemic is the spread of variants, of which there are many, and B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 are among the most widespread and concerning,” van Breemen said.
“These variants are well known for evading antibodies against early lineage SARS-CoV-2, which is obviously concerning given that current vaccination strategies rely on the early lineage spike protein as an antigen,” he continued.
“Our data show CBDA and CBGA are effective against the two variants we looked at, and we hope that trend will extend to other existing and future variants,” he added.
Van Breemen noted that resistant variants could still emerge amid widespread use of cannabinoids but that the combination of vaccines and CBDA/CBGA treatment should make it more difficult for the bug to infect people.
“Our earlier research reported on the discovery of another compound, one from licorice, that binds to the spike protein too,” he reportedly said. “However, we did not test that compound, licochalcone A, for activity against the live virus yet. We need new funding for that.”
But don’t plan on smoking weed to ward off the illness.
“The benefit for preventing viral infection of cells must come from cannabinoid acids, which are heat sensitive and must not be smoked, or it would convert them to CBD and so forth,” van Breemen said. “So that wouldn’t work for the antiviral effect.”