If you’re wondering why everyone has been talking about cannabis and Covid recently then you’re in the right place.
Cannabinoids have been hitting the headlines as a new study has found that some compounds, that can be extracted from the hemp plant, have been shown to prevent infection from the coronavirus.
A team of researchers led by Richard van Breeman (affiliated with Oregon State University), found that both cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and prevent it from entering human cells, thereby blocking its ability to infect people.
Cannabinoid acids shown to prevent covid infection
“Orally bioavailable and with a long history of safe human use, these cannabinoids, isolated or in hemp extracts, have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2,” Van Breeman et al.
Covid-19 infection – pandemic stats
- At least 272 million cases worldwide
- Approximately 5.3 million deaths
- Over 600,000 new cases every day since Dec 2021
SARS-CoV-2 possesses RNA strands that encode its four main structural proteins, which are spike, envelope, membrane, and nucleocapsid (as well as many other proteins, but I’m going to try and keep it simple here). Any part of the infection and replication cycle of the virus makes a good potential target for “antiviral intervention”, according to Van Breeman.
How SARS-CoV-2 infects humans
As scientists have been searching for a drug that can treat the coronavirus, much of the focus has been on the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), as this has been identified as the virus’ port of entry into our bodies.
The ACE2 receptor is present on the surface of many different types of human cell, found in the lungs, arteries, heart, kidney, and intestines. The SARS-CoV-2 virus binds to the ACE2 receptors on the cell membranes and, once latched on, the spike protein on the surface of the virus acts like a key being slid into a lock by attaching itself to the cell, which then allows the virus to penetrate the cell and multiply.
Cannabis and Covid – compromising the key to infection
The research team screened a range of botanicals including red clover, wild yam, licorice, and hops, but it was in hemp that they identified compounds, two cannabinoid acids in particular, that were able to bind themselves to the spike protein, effectively disarming the virus.
Once these acidic compounds bind themselves, irreversibly I might add, to the spike protein, it is no longer able to latch onto human epithelial cells as the “key” no longer fits the “lock”, thanks to the presence of CBDA or CBGA.
Without this critical step in the infection process, the virus is unable to penetrate the cells and multiply. This means that this pair of cannabinoid acids could be used to treat the coronavirus and shorten infection times, as well as prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection altogether, by blocking cellular entry.
What about the variants?
The ACE2 receptor is also the entry point for several other viruses, including the previous SARS-CoV-1 strain, as well as variants B.1.1.7 (first detected in the UK) and B.1.351 (first detected in South Africa), known as alpha and beta variants, respectively.
Current Covid vaccines and antibody therapies were also developed to target this same spike protein, but have been unable to protect against new variants as they are reliant on the early lineage spike protein as an antigen.
However, according to Van Breeman, both CBDA and CBGA “are effective against the two variants we looked at [alpha and beta variants], and we hope that trend will extend to other existing and future variants”.
A word of warning about cannabis and Covid
While we’re talking about cannabis and Covid, it’s important to note that we do not recommend that you try to use cannabis to protect you from Covid.
This research is promising, but it’s important to remember that it’s lab-based and oftentimes compounds behave differently in the human body than they do in a petri dish. However, both CBDA and CBGA are said to possess many health benefits that we’re only just starting to uncover and they’re rapidly increasing in popularity as a result of this study.
How to Access These Compounds
Did you know that you can’t smoke or vape cannabis or CBD hemp flower to access the health benefits of the compounds discussed here? These acidic compounds are heat sensitive and therefore cannot be smoked.
CBDA and CBGA are acidic compounds that exist naturally in hemp flower as the precursors to CBD and CBG respectively. CBDA (or CBGA) transforms into the more notorious CBD (or CBG) compound when it is exposed to heat, UV light, or age, via a process of decarboxylation.
Your typical CBD product (oil, tincture, or gummy) will also not contain these raw acidic compounds, as the CBDA will have already been converted to CBD, in order to deliver higher concentrations of CBD. So, you either need to look for a product that specifies a concentration of CBDA or CBGA or invest in some premium hemp flower.
You have a huge amount of choice when it comes to CBD flower (to access CBDA in its raw form), but I’d recommend a strain like Special Sauce, as it’s one of the stronger ones. For CBG hemp flower, then you have a little less choice, but could try strains like Sour G or White CBG.