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Hemp compounds may be promising therapeutic agents in treating and preventing coronavirus and its variants.
A study by Oregon State University researchers published in the Journal of Natural Products states that certain hemp compounds can prevent coronavirus from entering cells in the body.
Under U.S. federal law, hemp is a cannabis cultivar that contains less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. THC limits in hemp can be higher or lower depending on a country’s regulations. Most hemp plants have a high cannabidiol (CBD) cannabinoid concentration.
For millennia, hemp has been used to produce paper, clothing, rope, building materials, and food, which continues to this day. Hemp’s fibers, flowers, and seeds are all used commercially for various industrial purposes.
New research suggests that hemp compounds, cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and block it from infecting human cells and spreading coronavirus and its variants.
The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein binds to receptors on cell surfaces and is the main target of antibodies and vaccines that protect against coronavirus. Coronaviruses are covered in crown-like spikes, which start the infection process. The spikes bind to cells and fuse with their membranes, releasing the virus inside the cells.
How Cannabinoids Block Coronavirus: Prevent and Shorten Coronavirus Infections
Oregon State researchers, led by Richard van Breemen, screened various botanicals, including wild yam, red clover, licorice, hops, and hemp via an affinity selection mass spectrometry technique. Researchers found that “cannabigerolic acid and cannabidiolic acid were equally effective against the SARS-CoV-2 alpha variant B.1.1.7 and the beta variant B.1.351.”
Due to the fast development of coronavirus variants, vaccinations and natural immunity alone have been struggling to contain the virus. As of December 2021, COVID-19 has caused 272 million cases and 5.3 million deaths worldwide.
“Any part of the infection and replication cycle is a potential target for antiviral intervention, and the connection of the spike protein’s receptor binding domain to the human cell surface receptor ACE2 is a critical step in that cycle,” van Breemen said.
Researchers found that CBGA and CBDA acted as “cell entry inhibitors” by binding to the spike proteins, preventing them from binding to the ACE2 enzyme, found abundantly in the outer membrane of human endothelial cells in the lungs, intestines, heart, arteries, and kidney, and spreading the infection.
“These cannabinoid acids are abundant in hemp and in many hemp extracts,” van Breemed said. “They are not controlled substances like THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and have a good safety profile in humans.”
“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,” he said.
Researchers studied several cannabinoids’ effects on the spike proteins. The study found that “the cannabinoids [delta-9] tetrahydrocannabinol, [delta-8] tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabichromene, cannabigerol, cannabinol, and cannabidiol showed only weak or no binding.”
It is important to note that the latest research on cannabinoids and coronavirus spike proteins only focuses on cannabinoid acids, not their parent compounds (CBG and CBD). Cannabinoid acids convert to their parent compounds with age or exposure to heat or light, such as smoking or vaping cannabis.
“The benefit for preventing viral infection of cells must come from cannabinoid acids, which are heat sensitive and must not be smoked, or it would convert them to CBD and so forth, so that wouldn’t work for the antiviral effect,” van Breemen said.
Cannabinoid acids can be consumed via tinctures and juices to prevent the decarboxylation of the acids. Combustion or vaporization of CBDA and CBGA would not promote the antiviral effect available from oral ingestion.
Other studies have shown cannabis shows good therapeutic value in preventing and treating coronavirus. Research in Canada found that high-CBD cannabis strains could reduce the expression of ACE2 in human tissues.
ACE2 is the enzyme found on human endothelial cells across the body. Essentially, CBD could reduce the number of ACE2 available for the spike proteins to bind to. Reducing the binding sites means the infection has a lower risk of spreading.
In Israel, researchers have found that CBD, along with corticosteroids, could help repair cells damaged by coronavirus infections. In Philadelphia, researchers are planning to test the effects of synthetic cannabinoids in the treatment of COVID-19.
For more information about cannabis and coronavirus, read our comprehensive guide to safely buy and consume cannabis and reduce the risk of infection. Stay up-to-date with the latest coronavirus and cannabis news by following CTU’s marijuana industry blog.