Source: Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash
Source: Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

Study Shows That Cannabinoid Acids May Prevent COVID-19 Infections

January 27, 2022

The more we learn about cannabinoid science and its impact on the endocannabinoid system, the more we appreciate the incredible healing properties of the cannabis plant. It comes as no surprise that a new study indicates that cannabinoid acids from hemp may prevent COVID-19 infections by impeding the ability of the virus to enter human cells. These were the findings of research conducted by scientists from Oregon State University and Oregon Health and Sciences University. In this article we will cite the study, give background information on the research institutions and will explain the ramifications of this discovery.

Study Information

The study, Cannabinoids Block Cellular Entry of SARS-CoV-2 and the Emerging Variants, was published on January 10, 2022 in the peer reviewed Journal of Natural Products. Conducted at Oregon State University (OSU), the lead author was Dr. Richard van Breemen, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR. Dr. van Breemen collaborated with other scientists at the Oregon Health and Science University, Molecular Microbiology & Immunology Department in Portland, OR.

OSU’s History of Hemp

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Oregon State University has a long history of the cultivation and research of industrial hemp. From the 1880s to 1936, Oregon State College, the predecessor to OSU, was the home of the national hemp research center.

Due to its geographic location, the region in which OSU resides is optimal for growing hemp. The mission of the Global Hemp Innovation Center at the College of Agricultural Sciences at OSU is to develop hemp products of all kinds. This includes building material, fiber and clothing, agricultural use, livestock feed and for medicinal purposes

Purpose of the Study

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The team was searching for a compound that attached to the spike protein of the virus in order to neutralize it. They used affinity-selection mass spectrometry which is capable of evaluating a huge number of small compounds that bind to target proteins. Three cannabinoid acids were identified by the team; cannabigerolic acid, CBGA, cannabidiolic acid, CBDA and tetrahydrocannabinol acid, THCA which are all found in raw hemp plants. Because THCA is considered a controlled substance, the researchers were unable to access extracts of the compound. They concentrated on testing the other two compounds; CBGA and CBDA.

The Testing Process

The non-psychotropic cannabis compounds and a control were incubated in the laboratory with the live virus. The Global Hemp Innovation Center was the source for the extracts of hemp and isolates of specific cannabinoids. After 24 hours, they were injected into human epithelial cells. When the cells were tested for RNA from SARS-CoV-2, there was no trace of it. The same procedure was used on the live alpha variant, initially detected in the UK and the beta variant, detected in South Africa. The outcome was the same as the initial findings. The team is cautiously optimistic that the outcome will be the same with other variants of the virus.

The Findings

Their findings indicate that the two cannabis compounds were the most effective of the tested samples in neutralizing the virus in high concentrations. This was achieved by blocking its entry where it enters the cell, at the same point at which antibodies attack the virus. The team is recommending a combination of vaccinations and CBGA/CBDA treatment as the most effective way to reduce infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including resistant variants. It is not meant to be a treatment or cure for those who are hospitalized and severely ill but as an effective prevention protocol along with other therapy measures.

An Interview with Dr. Richard van Breemen

Dr. van Breemen was interviewed by Audrey Carleton, reporter with VICE News, the current affairs channel.

According to Dr. van Breemen, the team was investigating other botanicals including red clover, wild yams, hops and three species of licorice as possible compounds to block the entry of the virus before discovering the three compounds in hemp. The team surmised that the entourage effect would come into play when combining CBDA, CBGA and THCA. The three compounds together would be more effective at blocking the entry of the virus than using one compound at a time.

Smoking vs Oral Ingestion

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It is the acid form of the compounds rather than the decarboxylated form which has been shown to effectively block the virus. Dr. van Breemen suspects that simply smoking a joint or vaping cannabis would be much less effective in blocking the virus as the application of heat would convert the acids into different compounds. For that reason, the team envisions oral applications of a hemp extract in a pill, oil or gummy.

The next step for Dr. van Breemen would be the federal legalization of cannabis so that he could use THCA in his research. He would appreciate any further research to be funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He applied for a grant from the NIH in 2020 and they turned him down, but he went ahead with his research, anyway.

He would love to do a follow up study to determine the daily oral dosing regimen that would help prevent infection or transmission of the virus. He imagines a safe product of hemp extracts that would stop people from getting sick from COVID. In addition, Dr. van Breemen foresees the potential use of compounds that block virus-receptor interaction to treat other viral infections such as HIV-1 and hepatitis.

Some Important Takeaways

It’s important to note that these studies are conducted in highly regulated lab environments and are not definitive proof that consuming cannabis in its raw or even current processed forms will prevent SARS-CoV-2.

These tests were conducted using high concentrations of hemp derived cannabinoid acids in much larger quantities than would be found in smoking or vaping cannabis. The other important note about cannabinoid acids is that as you heat them (via smoking or vaping) they are changed into their non-acidic molecules. CBDA turns into CBD, THCA into THC, etc. This further reduces the amount of cannabinoid acids your body is getting when consuming via these methods.

While this study does not prove smoking cannabis will keep you from contracting COVID-19, it’s a very exciting look into the many possible medical applications of the plant and its abundant compounds. Further studies of this nature are needed in order for us to truly understand all the amazing properties and benefits of the cannabis plant.