Can weed stop COVID-19? Two hemp compounds might - study

Compounds found in cannabis sativa seem to target the coronavirus spike protein, its main method of infection.

CANTEK-brand medical cannabis in at their indoor growing facility in Mavki'im, in southern Israel. (photo credit: RAPHAEL KADISHZON)
CANTEK-brand medical cannabis in at their indoor growing facility in Mavki'im, in southern Israel.
(photo credit: RAPHAEL KADISHZON)

Can marijuana help prevent COVID-19? According to a new study, that seems to be the case.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed academic periodical Journal of Natural Products by researchers from Oregon State University, focuses specifically on hemp compounds, known specifically as cannabis sativa.

This type of marijuana is used in many different products such as cosmetics, food, lotions and dietary supplements. 

But a pair of cannabinoid acids found in hemp may be able to help prevent COVID-19 infections.

These compounds, cannabigerolic acid, or CBGA, and cannabidiolic acid, CBDA, work by binding to coronavirus spike proteins. This is important, as it means they have the same drug target (a molecule critical to the disease's process) as do COVID-19 vaccines and antibody treatments. In other words, this blocks the virus's main way of infecting people. Compounds blocking the infection process have also been shown to work in other diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis.

A man prepares a cigarette mixed with marijuana during Cannatech 2017, an annual global cannabis industry event, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 20, 2017. (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)A man prepares a cigarette mixed with marijuana during Cannatech 2017, an annual global cannabis industry event, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 20, 2017. (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

“These cannabinoid acids are abundant in hemp and in many hemp extracts,” lead author Richard van Breemen said in a statement

“They are not controlled substances like THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and have a good safety profile in humans. And our research showed the hemp compounds were equally effective against variants of SARS-CoV-2, including variant B.1.1.7 [Alpha], which was first detected in the United Kingdom, and variant B.1.351 [Beta], first detected in South Africa.”

These two compounds were identified by using a mass spectrometry-based technique to identify potential drugs ingredients that could target the spike protein.

“These compounds can be taken orally and have a long history of safe use in humans,” van Breemen said. “They have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2. CBDA and CBGA are produced by the hemp plant as precursors to CBD and CBG, which are familiar to many consumers. However, they are different from the acids and are not contained in hemp products.”

But while the compounds seem effective against the Alpha and Beta variants, it is unclear if they are effective against the others like Delta and Omicron.

More research is needed to test this, as well as testing other compounds, specifically one derived from licorice that also binds to the spike protein. 

But as of now, the best means of preventing COVID-19 serious infection remains getting vaccinated.