Let’s be clear from the start: this is not the same thing as saying smoking cannabis prevents COVID-19 — as some sensationalist media have erroneously reported. We’re talking about laboratory testing of cannabinoid acids which are heat sensitive and must not be smoked to maintain their antiviral effect. So any eventual delivery method into the body will be more medicinally-based than recreational.
Nonetheless, the just-released research is promising. A team from Oregon State University has published the report “Cannabinoids Block Cellular Entry of SARS-CoV-2 and the Merging Variants” in the Journal of Natural Products of the American Chemical Society and American Society of Pharmacognosy. The scientists are from Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center in the College of Pharmacy, and the Oregon Health & Science University.
Their key finding is that two cannabinoids commonly found in hemp and many hemp extracts — cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidolic acid (CBDA) — can bind to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). When this takes place, the virus can no longer enter cells in the human body and infect people.
This binding to the spike protein is the same blocking mechanism used by the COVID-19 vaccines. And indeed, the intention of the researchers is that both the vaccines and oral treatment with cannabinoids should be combined to make it more difficult for the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants to infect people.
The study showed that both the CBGA and CBDA acids were equally effective against the first two variants to receive widespread attention: the B.1.1.7 “Alpha” variant and B.1.351 “Beta” variant. The researchers believe they may also be effective against the “Delta” and “Omicron” variants (which had not yet been identified at the time of the experiments) and other future variants of concern, but will need additional studies to confirm that hypothesis. In addition, the two cannabinoids have a “long history of safe human use,” and are non‑psychoactive — they will not get users high.
The researchers also screened a variety of botanicals frequently used as dietary supplements, and identified another compound that successfully binds to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein — licochalcone A, derived from licorice. However, they are seeking additional funding to test the compound against the live virus.
One final caveat: there is much more research to be done before any COVID-19 medication can be successfully developed and released. Including animal trials. Human trials. All the steps that were necessary to release the COVID-19 vaccines, without necessarily the same pace as Operation Warp Speed. So the key takeaway is that cannabis will likely play a greater role in treatments of the future, and Kanna Knowledge will be keeping you informed.