A recent US study has found that compounds in cannabis can prevent infection from the COVID-19 virus by blocking its entry into cells.
New research, conducted at the Global Hemp Innovation Centre at Oregon State University, has shown that two cannabinoid acids in the hemp plant are able to bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, preventing the entry and infection of human epithelial cells.
The study, published in the Journal of Natural Products, used a mass spectrometry-based screening technique to find that cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) bind to the same drug target as COVID-19 vaccines and antibody therapies, highlighting a new avenue to potentially prevent and treat the virus.
The cannabis compounds are naturally found in the hemp plant, scientifically known as Cannabis sativa, which “is used for fibre, food, and animal feed, and various hemp extracts and compounds have become popular additions to cosmetics, body lotions, dietary supplements, and food”, the paper explains.
According to the study’s lead author, Richard B. van Breemen, CBGA and CBDA are cell entry inhibitors. They “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.”
A primary concern of health officials is ensuring that vaccines and treatments are effective against new variants of the virus. The study found that the cannabis compounds were equally effective against the alpha variant B.1.1.7 and the beta variant B.1.351, suggesting that hemp extracts could offer protection against emerging variants.
Researchers added that “with widespread use of cannabinoids, resistant variants could still arise, but the combination of vaccination and CBDA/CBGA treatment should create a more challenging environment with which SARS-CoV-2 must contend, reducing the likelihood of escape”.
van Breemen told Oregon State University that CBGA and CBDA “are not controlled substances like THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and have a good safety profile in humans.
“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.”
There are anecdotal reports of people using cannabis to manage COVID-19 symptoms. In Uganda, where the rate of vaccination is slow, cannabis has become a popular home remedy for treating the virus. More research is needed, but this Oregon State University study provides some scientific evidence to support these claims.