By Emily Ledger
Cannabis compounds have been seen to be effective at preventing infection from the virus that causes COVID-19 in a laboratory study published this week.
The study, “Cannabinoids Block Cellular Entry of SARS-CoV-2 and the Emerging Variants”, which was published in the Journal of Nature Products, demonstrated that two compounds found in the Cannabis Sativa plant could stop the virus from penetrating human cells. The two compounds – cannabigerolic acid (CBGa) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDa) were found to bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19.
The researchers, who are associated with Oregon State University, concluded that this action could block a critical step in the process used by the virus to infect people. The finding could potentially offer new avenues to prevent infection from the disease.
In the abstract of the study, the researchers wrote: “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.”
The study lead, Richard van Breeman, a researcher with Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center in the College of Pharmacy and Linus Pauling Institute, commented: “These cannabinoid acids … are not controlled substances like THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and have a good safety profile in humans.
“… Our research showed the hemp compounds were equally effective against variants of SARS-CoV-2, including variant B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the United Kingdom, and variant B.1.351, first detected in South Africa.”
The spike protein, which was seen to be targeted by the cannabis compounds, is the same protein targeted by COVID-19 vaccines and antibody therapies. SARS-CoV-2 has three more structural proteins and 16 non-structural proteins, as well as several “accessory” proteins – all of which are potential targets for drugs developed to tackle the virus.
“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 Breeman said.
“That means cell entry inhibitors, like the acids from hemp, could be used to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and also to shorten infections by preventing virus particles from infecting human cells.
“They bind to the spike proteins so those proteins can’t bind to the ACE2 enzyme, which is abundant on the outer membrane of endothelial cells in the lungs and other organs.”
While further study is needed to fully understand the potential of this discovery, van Breeman noted that cannabinoids such as the ones used in this study are readily available and can easily be developed into drugs to prevent or treat COVID-19.