It’s rare to see a research report cause a stir on the internet, but that’s what happened when Oregon State University published a to study showing cannabis compounds blocking COVID-19 infection earlier this month.
According to the researchers involved, the study claimed that certain cannabis compounds have the potential to “prevent and treat” COVID-19 infection. The report, titled “Cannabinoids block cellular entry of SARS-CoV-2 and emerging variants,” was published in the Journal of Natural Products on January 10 and quickly summarized in breathless radio and TV news reports, as well as as blogs and email newsletters with varying degrees of depth and truthfulness.
What they found was that cannabidiolic acid (or CBDA) and cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) were able to bind to the spike proteins of the virus when tested in tissue culture. These spike proteins act as a kind of key that allows the coronavirus to spread through cells, which means these compounds could (theoretically) stop some COVID-19 infections before they even start.
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The news went viral overnight. Twitter and Reddit users were quick to post plans to smoke as much weed as possible to prevent COVID-19 infection (some ironic, some not so much), and claimed that cannabis had protected them from COVID during the outbreak. ‘Omicron.
it sucks we have to smoke so much weed just to ward off covid but i’m doing everything i can to protect myself
– charles entertainment cheese (@jmurffff) January 23, 2022
So does that mean cannabis will protect me from COVID?
No. It won’t “protect” you the way you think. As is the case with most cannabis research, the real implications of this study are not that simple. And by that we mean you definitely shouldn’t expect your edibles to make you immune to COVID-19, but let’s explore that in more depth, because that’s what journalism is for.
CBGA and CBDA (the compounds tested in this study) are both known as “acidic cannabinoids,” meaning they are precursors to the more widely recognized CBD and CBG molecules. These are the molecules as they exist in the hemp plant, before decarboxylation.
RELATED: What are acidic cannabinoids and how do they work?
In their acid form, CBD and CBG will not pass the blood-brain barrier, which means they will not produce the mildly sedating and stress-relieving effects that CBD and CBG products are known for.
It is important to recognize that THC, the most recognizable cannabis compound, was not tested in this study.
Although less popular and understudied, CBGA and CBDA oils are still sold in tincture form by some manufacturers, and there is some evidence that acidic cannabinoids may be anti-inflammatory and have serotonin-producing properties.
However, due to the lack of research conducted on acidic cannabinoids and the lack of regulation in some states, it is unclear whether CBGA and CBDA products are legitimate. Dr. Kenneth Weinberg, chief medical officer at Cannabis Doctors of New York, says he doesn’t feel comfortable prescribing acidic cannabinoids right now because they’re so new to the market.
But why not take CBGA and CBDA oil to try and build COVID resistance or COVID immunity?
It’s not as simple as that either. According to cannabis physician and clinician Dr. Leigh Vinocur, there is a major gap between a cannabis compound preventing infection in a lab and dispensary cannabis products protecting humans against COVID-19.
“We are far from saying that cannabis can prevent COVID,” Vinocur told GreenState. “This was an in vitro preclinical trial, which means these cells were tested in a test tube, not in humans.”
Vinocur explained that while preclinical testing is an important part of what it takes to create a drug, human trials must be done before a drug is considered legitimate. This is largely because dosage doesn’t need to be considered in a test tube, but becomes very important when you start thinking about how to get the required concentration of a given substance. in the human body safely.
In this case, the researchers used CBDA and CBGA with a concentration 1,000 times the average concentration of CBDA and CBGA usually found in human tissue. To achieve this kind of concentration in the human body, Vinocur said, the patient would have to ingest obscene amounts of CBGA or CBDA, if possible, thanks to the way acidic molecules interact with human metabolism.
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“You have to think about how the human body metabolizes compounds,” Vinocur said. “CBGA and CBDA lipid molecules, which means they have trouble being absorbed. The problem with creating drugs with these types of lipid molecules is that they can have trouble being absorbed through the gut, and if they are not absorbed by the intestine, they will have difficulty entering other cells.
Vinocur added that even if there was a way for a human to absorb the amount of CBDA and CBGA needed to produce the COVID repellent effect seen in the preclinical study, researchers would have to think about how the drug would be. dose.
It’s not about whether high doses of acidic cannabinoids like this would be safe (CBGA and CBDA are on the market today and are known to have no major side effects, and it’s almost impossible to overdose on cannabis products), but it may be that such high concentrations of the compounds would be needed that the drug would be completely inaccessible.
Vinocur explained that although the compounds tested in this study are on the market, they are generally expensive. This is because CBGA and CBDA are the precursors to CBD and CBG in the cannabis plant, which means they are very unstable. A slight change in environmental conditions can trigger a chemical reaction that will turn them into CBD or CBG very quickly, so it is difficult to grow and extract these compounds.
Additionally, the concentrations used in the study are so high that it may be impossible to ask people to consume so much of the compound orally.
“One thing you have to establish is that the medicine for everything is dosage, and if you can never get a human to consume that much CBGA or CBDA, it’s not going to work,” Vinocur said.
Meanwhile, Weinberg says he took full-spectrum CBD before going to a wedding last weekend and asked his family members to do the same. It’s not that he thinks CBD will keep him from getting COVID – he and his family are vaccinated and follow standard safety measures before and during the event. He just couldn’t think of a reason not to.
“It appears that some cannabis compounds have COVID-blocking abilities, albeit very weak,” Weinberg said. “CBD has no major side effects – it can’t hurt, and there’s a small chance there’s a benefit to getting certain cannabinoids in your system.”
Other studies have been conducted on the relationship between COVID and cannabis. What makes this study different?
This isn’t the first time the scientific community has linked COVID to cannabis. At the start of the pandemic, a to study claims that high-CBD cannabis could ameliorate coronavirus susceptibility sparked a flood of misinformation circulating on social media that was comparable to what we see today. Further reports on the subject were published soon after.
Vinocur says there are two main things that make the January study different from this 2020 report and others like it. First, it was peer-reviewed, and second, no CBD or cannabis company stakeholders were funding the research.
Additionally, most of the research conducted in 2020 tested animal cells, not human cells.
So what’s next for cannabis and COVID research?
Like any drug, these cannabis compounds need to undergo more preclinical testing before they can be tested in humans. And once they make it to clinical trials, there’s still more testing to do before they can be offered as a treatment, if that’s even a possibility.
Cannabis is difficult to research in the United States because the product is still considered a Schedule I drug under federal law. However, these compounds are technically considered hemp because they contain less than 0.3% THC. Hemp was legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill and is therefore slightly easier to test than high THC cannabis.
Still, Weinberg said the process would likely take at least a year, if not longer.
“There’s a lot of research going on right now, which for various reasons isn’t made public, on the different cannabinoids (used) for COVID,” Weinberg told GreenState. “I imagine this study from Oregon is one of many that will happen. But the problem is how long it will take to go from the lab to clinical studies and do a double-blind, placebo-controlled study on compounds related to a Schedule I drug.”
Although that seems long, Weinberg said there is a very real possibility that COVID is here to stay. In this case, any research on treatment and prevention, no matter how slow, will help.
Conclusion to protect yourself from COVID with cannabis:
Overall, this study doesn’t change how we should protect ourselves from COVID-19, and it won’t be for a long time.
Getting vaccinated, getting vaccinated and wearing a mask remain the most effective ways to ensure your safety and that of your loved ones.
The cannabis compounds tested were acidic cannabinoids CBGA and CBDA, not THC, so don’t think that lighting up before going out in public will prevent you from catching COVID-19.
And even if you have CBDA and CBGA oil on hand, health experts say it’s still unclear if it’s even possible for humans to consume the high concentration of acidic cannabinoids used in this study (and we do not recommend trying it at home).
But that doesn’t mean this report isn’t worth reporting. This shows that cannabis compounds have some potential to help fight a global pandemic, and it could lead to more cannabinoid research in the future.
Elissa Esher is a writer at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send your requests and advice to [email protected]