Lab Report: Cannabinoids can prevent the entry of the coronavirus into human cells

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A study led by scientists at Oregon State University found that two hemp-derived cannabinoids have the ability to prevent the coronavirus from entering our cells thereby preventing disease.

The cannabinoids are cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) and cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). They act by binding to the infamous spike protein on the surface of the virus. That prevents those proteins from binding to the receptors – the ports of entry – on the surfaces of cells in the lungs and other organs. Receptor binding is the necessary first step the virus engages in to get into our cells and make us sick.

Think of the cannabinoid action as akin to putting chewing gum on the spike protein ‘key’ that fits the receptor ‘lock,’ thereby rendering the viral key inoperable – thus preventing illness.

The study, carried out prior to the emergence of omicron, showed the hemp compounds were equally effective against the alpha & beta variants of the coronavirus, first detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa, respectively. The researchers “hope that trend will extend to other existing and future variants.”

They also note that the idea of using compounds that block virus-receptor interaction has been helpful for patients with other viral infections, including HIV-1 and hepatitis.

All told, the research is compelling proof in principle that cannabinoids can prevent coronavirus disease (Covid-19), and the findings are consistent with similar work carried out in Canada, Israel, and elsewhere in the United States.

Two words of caution, though:

These studies have been carried out in the lab using human epithelial tissue and a psuedovirus expressing the spike protein. That’s a necessary first step but we’re still a long way from real world application which requires studies on animals then humans. But given this very promising start scientists are seeking funding to do just that.

Second, you can’t do this at home. CBDA & CBGA are the precursor molecules to CBD & CBG and while they’re found in the hemp & cannabis plant they’re destroyed by heat. Meaning as soon as you light it or put it in the oven to bake it the acid is destroyed – and you end up with CBD & CBG. However, because of the super-potent properties of the acids work is underway to develop synthetic analogs for therapeutic use.

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