January 13, 2022
Compounds found in cannabis are able to prevent the virus that causes COVID-19 from entering healthy human cells and causing infection, according to a new study from Oregon State University.
Researchers from the school's Global Hemp Innovation Center found that two cannabinoid acids found in hemp varietals of the plant – cannabigerolic acid, or CBGA, and cannabidiolic acid, or CBDA – can combat COVID-19 by binding to the virus' spike protein.
The spike protein is one of many found in the virus, but it plays a vital role in infection by fusing to cells and easing the process of viral invasion. The study found that when the two cannabis compounds bind to the spike protein, they prevent a critical step the virus takes when infecting cells. This is the same way that antibody therapies and the COVID-19 vaccines work.
“These compounds can be taken orally and have a long history of safe use in humans,” Richard van Breemen, an OSU researcher who worked on the study said. “They have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2."
He also noted that compounds which have a similar effect have been useful for other viral infections, including HIV-1 and hepatitis.
Van Breeman and his colleagues identified the compounds by using a screening technique that they developed in their lab. The team then ran tests on the alpha and beta variants of COVID-19 and found CBGA and CBDA blocked the virus from entering cells that line the human body, preventing infection.
The study was conducted completely in a laboratory and did not involve giving people supplements or comparing the immune response of infected people who do consume the compounds with those who don't.
“These cannabinoid acids are abundant in hemp and in many hemp extracts,” van Breemen said. “They are not controlled substances like THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and have a good safety profile in humans."
Hemp and Marijuana are the same species of plant – cannabis sativa – but grow differently. This causes the amount of the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, to vary. Hemp is categorized as having a THC level lower than 0.3%, while marijuana is anything above that.
Van Breemen said hemp is often used legally for industrial purposes and that extracts from the plant are frequently added to cosmetics, dietary supplements and food products.
The team also believes that CBGA and CBDA could be effective against new variants of COVID-19 that could potentially emerge at some point in the future. The two compounds worked on both mutations that they were tested on, which are two of the most widespread since the start of the pandemic. But van Breemen said further research is needed.
“These variants are well known for evading antibodies against early lineage SARS-CoV-2," van Breemen said. "Our data show CBDA and CBGA are effective against the two variants we looked at, and we hope that trend will extend to other existing and future variants.”
The team hopes that the two hemp acids could be consumed via dietary supplements in conjunction with vaccines to further lower a patient's risk of becoming infected with COVID-19.