Some of the compounds in cannabis may prevent the entry of the coronavirus into healthy human cells, according to a study published in the Journal of Nature Products.
The research was conducted at Oregon State University and led by Richard van Breemen, a scientist with Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center, College of Pharmacy, and Linus Pauling Institute.
The study suggests two compounds found in commonly found in hemp -- cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) -- prevent coronavirus from entering cells that typically line internal organs and skin in a lab setting.
In the study, these acids were able to bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein -- the same target used in COVID-19 vaccines and antibody therapy. Once bound, this step could block a critical step in the pathogen process used to infect the cell.
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“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,” said van Breemen in a statement.
Both cannabis compounds were found equally effective against the SARS-CoV-2 alpha and beta variants.
Van Breemen hopes this trend seen in his findings will apply to other existing and future COVID-19 variants.
Hemp, part of the species Cannabis sativa, is one of the cannabis species grown for industrial and medicinal use, including in dietary supplements, animal feed, and cosmetics.
Van Breemen states these compounds can be taken orally. To him, they have the potential to prevent and 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," van Breeman noted.
The researchers did not study THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, due to campus rules prohibiting research using controlled substances. Van Breeman sought to temper public perception that recreational marijuana would have the same effect on preventing a COVID-19 infection as ingesting an oral supplement, noting in an interview with Vice News published Thursday that, when heated, the chemical profile and properties of the compound change.
"The active compounds we've discovered in hemp are cannabidiolic acid, CBD-A, CBG-A, and THC-A," Van Breeman explained to the outlet. "'A' stands for an acid group, a carboxylic acid — this group can be removed upon treatment. So if these hemp products containing these compounds are smoked or vaped, the heat exposure could cause the chemical decomposition or conversion of CBD-A to CBD, CBG-A to CBG, and THC-A to THC. So, we know that CBD, CBG and THC are not active against the virus."