Cannabis May Help Prevent COVID-19 Infection, New Research Suggests

But it's not the hemp you know about.
Derya Ozdemir

A new preliminary, drug-screening study which has now gone viral suggests that two chemical compounds identified in live cannabis plants may prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, from infecting healthy human cells and turning them into viral factories. 

This certainly isn't to say that smoking marijuana will protect you from COVID-19, or that the reason why a person gets COVID while another doesn't has anything to do with cannabis.

In fact, smoking anything isn't a wise decision during a pandemic that affects the lungs most, and the compounds in question cannot be consumed via smoking anyway, meaning they'd have to be harvested separately to manufacture a specific medicine or treatment.

Nonetheless, the results are intriguing, to say the least.

Two specific compounds found in hemp plants

The team of researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) and Oregon Health and Science University behind the study employed a screening tool to find chemical compounds from natural products that could make them useful drugs to prevent a COVID-19 infection or help humans to fight off the virus.

As a result, they discovered two compounds called cannabigerolic acid, known as CBG-A, and cannabidiolic acid, known as CBD-A. Both of these possessed the proper molecular make-up to suggest they could stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ spike protein from binding to and infecting a cell, according to the study published in the Journal of Natural Products.

The chemicals were then evaluated in human cells in a petri dish, and they both appeared to impair the coronavirus' spike protein's capacity to bind to epithelial cells in cell models of alpha and beta variations, while other variations were not tested by the researchers.

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“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,” lead researcher Richard van Breemen explained in press release. “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.”

The research mirrors another study from 2020, in which scientists looked at more than 400 cannabis strains and identified particular strains which provided less fertile grounds for the virus to take root.

Still, keep in mind that this is not proof that smoking marijuana or consuming hemp-derived products such as CBD gummies can protect you from a COVD-19 infection.

"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. 

While the compounds haven't been tested against other mutations such as Omicron, the researchers are hopeful that the "trend will extend to other existing and future variants," according to van Breemen.

However, it's important to note that what happens in a petri dish doesn't always equate to what happens in animal or human trials, so it's best to remain skeptical until further research is undertaken.

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