Scientists have discovered a way to treat Covid-19 infections and the answer seems to be an unusual one — marijuana.
Researchers have found that cannabis contains compounds that can prevent infection from the Covid-19 virus by blocking its entry into cells.
A study by scientists found that two acids, commonly found in hemp varieties of cannabis, cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) can bind to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
This binding can prevent the virus from entering cells and causing infection.
The spike protein is the same part of the virus targeted by Covid-19 vaccines and antibody therapies.
Cannabinoid acids are not controlled substances like THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and have a good safety profile in humans.
‘These cannabinoid acids are abundant in hemp and in many hemp extracts,’ said Richard van Breemen, the lead scientist on the study.
The study also found that CBDA and CBGA blocked the action of emerging variants of the virus that causes Covid-19. Emerging variants is one of the primary concerns faced by health officials fighting the pandemic.
According to the data, CBDA and CBGA are effective against the alpha and beta variants of Covid-19.
‘These variants are well known for evading antibodies against early lineage SARS-CoV-2, which is obviously concerning given that current vaccination strategies rely on the early lineage spike protein as an antigen,’ said van Breemen.
While resistant variants could still arise amid widespread use of cannabinoids, researchers hope that a combination of vaccination and CBDA/CBGA treatment should make for a much more ‘challenging environment for SARS-CoV-2’.
The disruption by cannabinoid acids can stop the infection in its tracks and prevent it from progressing further. Using compounds that block virus-receptor interaction has been helpful for patients with other viral infections like HIV-1 and hepatitis.
These acids from hemp act as cell entry inhibitors and could be used to prevent Covid-19 infections and even shorten infections by preventing virus particles from infecting human cells.
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.
Pending further research, van Breemen noted that cannabinoids could be developed into drugs to prevent or treat Covid-19.
‘These compounds can be taken orally and have a long history of safe use in humans,’ van Breemen noted. ‘They have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2,’
Van Breemen, Ruth Muchiro of the College of Pharmacy and Linus Pauling Institute and five scientists from OHSU identified the two cannabinoid acids via a mass spectrometry-based screening technique invented in van Breemen’s laboratory.
Van Breemen’s team screened a range of botanicals used as dietary supplements including red clover, wild yam, hops and three species of liquorice.
The findings could potentially offer new solutions to tackle the pandemic. The scientists are also working on the discovery of another compound to disrupt the coronavirus, derived from liquorice, that similarly binds to the spike protein.