As the COVID-19 pandemic continues disrupting our lives, any news about a medicine that is effective against the infection is good news. Even if it comes from a source as controversial as the cannabis plant.
The Journal of Nature Products has recently published a study of two cannabis compounds that can incapacitate the virus so that it cannot invade healthy human cells. This can either prevent the infection or shorten it.
A team of scientists from the Oregon State University led by Richard van Breemen tested cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) in vitro and found that both were effective at blocking cellular entry by SARS-CoV-2.
Spike Proteins Put Out of Action
Specifically, the two chemicals commonly found in hemp bind to spike proteins—those protruding structures on the surface of the coronavirus that gave it its name. Note that both covid vaccines and antibody therapies also target this site.9
Spike proteins are crucial for the process in which the virus binds to the membranes of endothelial cells that line the surfaces of the lungs and other internal organs. By losing its spikes, coronavirus loses the ability to penetrate the membrane, get inside the cell, and start replicating.
Only Acidic Forms of Cannabinoids Work This Way
Both CBGA and CBDA are acids. The letter A in their names refers to an acidic group in their chemical structure. In the cannabis plant, acids of this kind are precursors to cannabinoids—a group of chemicals that includes THC, CBD, and, in fact, at least 80 other less common and lesser-known substances. For each of them, there is a specific acidic precursor.
CBGA and CBDA serve as precursors to cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabidiol (CBD) respectively. The team from the Oregon State University didn’t try to study THC-A because it’s mildly psychoactive and easily turns into THC, the main mind-altering constituent of cannabis. And campus rules at Oregon State prohibit research of mind-altering substances.
The Power of Eating Hemp Raw
The authors of the study specifically stress that their findings do not mean that people should smoke marijuana—either medical or recreational—to protect themselves from COVID-19 infection. Given that more and more countries and states legalize the sale of cannabis flowers and other products and that cannabis seeds to grow weed at home are easily found online, some users might think that it’s a good idea to self-medicate.
However, it’s not. When you smoke marijuana like a cigarette or use a vape, you heat acidic forms of cannabinoids enough to decarboxylate them. In the process, THC-A turns to THC, CBDA to CBD, CBGA to CBG, etc. And according to the researchers, non-acidic compounds have no effect on spike proteins.
The same, by the way, is true of edibles. Decarboxylation is the first step in their production. That’s why edibles are as psychoactive as smokables, and can’t be relied on for any antiviral action. The only way to consume CBDA and CBGA in their proper therapeutic form is to ingest leaves and flowers raw. As an added bonus, the mind-altering effects will be minimal, even if you consume in this way psychoactive marijuana varieties and not just hemp.
Not the First Study of This Kind
Scientists have been aware of the antiviral and antibacterial properties of the cannabis plant for some time now. And as soon as the search for effective treatment of COVID-19 began, several teams set their sights on cannabinoids.
Last year, Italian researchers found that CBD can protect and restore the epithelium of human intestines when it is gets damaged by coronavirus’ spike proteins. By binding to specific receptors, CBD reduces inflammation and has pronounced immunosuppressant effects.
The same action was earlier proposed as a way to protect and restore lung tissues in COVID-19 patients, and a review of scientific papers shows that scientists study various ways in which cannabis might be helpful in fighting the pandemic—from CBD mouth-washes to prevent the infection in the first place to the recovery of pulmonary function in those who already recuperate from the illness.