A new study has sparked interest on the internet, demonstrating how two cannabis compounds may have anti-COVID-19 properties. But weed smokers shouldn’t get too excited just yet.
Oregon State University researchers isolated and identified two naturally occurring compounds found in hemp, cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) (CBDA). The scientists discovered that these two compounds have a molecular form that can bind to SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins, preventing the virus from binding to cells—the same basic principle that makes monoclonal antibody treatments effective. CBGA and CBDA may bind to the virus’s Alpha and Beta variants, but the researchers have not investigated other variants. On Monday, the now-viral peer-reviewed study was published in the Journal of Natural Products.
The paper has gotten a lot of attention, even making appearances on late-night television shows. “We should’ve been eating CBD all this time we’ve been listening to the CDC,” Jimmy Kimmel joked. According to Stephen Colbert, this is “great news for all the teenagers whose parents find weed in their room” and who now say things like, “Those aren’t mine. ‘I’m just holding them for my friend Tony Fauci.’ The study has also sparked several viral tweets, such as “Raise your hand if “weed to the rescue” was on your 2022 pandemic bingo card.”
The study found no evidence that smoking marijuana or consuming CBD gummies or other popular hemp products can protect or prevent COVID-19. The cannabis compounds mentioned in the study, CBGA and CBDA, are precursors to the compounds found in cannabis products: They are acids found in hemp that are converted into CBG and CBD when cannabis plants are heated and dried to make marijuana.
“CBDA and CBGA are produced by the hemp plant as precursors to CBD and CBG, which are familiar to many consumers,” said Richard van Breemen, an Oregon State University pharmaceutical scientist, in a statement. “However, they differ from acids and are not found in hemp products.” van Breeman also said that “we know that CBD, CBG, and THC are not active against the virus.”
CBDA and CGBA degrade at high temperatures as well, ruling out smoking as a method of ingesting the chemicals. If these compounds were to become medicinal products in the future, they would have to be taken orally, most likely as pills.
Experts are taking to social media to dispel myths about marijuana’s medicinal properties. Endo-cannabinologist Rachel Knox responded to one viral tweet by saying, “This research is specific to the acidics, CBGA and CBDA in particular.” Acidics aren’t being smoked. You’d have to consume them raw/fresh or stabilized in a capsule or tincture.”
Another important caveat to mention is that no human clinical trials were conducted in this study. The researchers performed laboratory tests and examined human epithelial cell cultures. The researchers used those cells as models to demonstrate how the two cannabis compounds could interfere with SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins and thus prevent infection. What happens in a petri dish or test tube, however, does not always apply in the human body. Researchers won’t know for sure what these compounds’ protective value, if any, against COVID-19 is until more research is conducted, particularly in living humans.
“We have no reason to believe that smoking marijuana protects you… “Smoking anything during a pandemic that affects the lungs isn’t a good idea,” Peter Grinspoon, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School who regularly writes about cannabis, told Forbes. Furthermore, “these compounds would need to be tested in animals, then in humans, and actually shown to be effective against COVID.” This is a long way off, assuming they work, which is far from certain,” he said. “I don’t believe many molecules at that level translate into functional medicines.”