The Covid-19 pandemic is approaching its two-year anniversary, and even though we’ve developed new vaccines and treatment options, variants like omicron continue to infect millions all across the globe.
Earth’s greatest epidemiologists and scientific minds have sought to find novel ways to curtail this deadly virus and set us back on a path to the new normal, which has led to some interesting results.
According to Oregon State researchers, some of the compounds in weed may actually help shield us from Covid-19. Specifically, the minor cannabinoids CBGA and CBDA. Keep reading to learn more about these compounds and how we may be able to use hemp to fight disease.
What Is CBGA?
The Oregon State study highlights two molecules that belong to the class of compounds called cannabinoids—psychoactive compounds found in cannabis and hemp that interact with a chemical messenger system in our body called the endocannabinoid system. You’ve likely heard of at least two cannabinoids, CBD and THC, but there are dozens of unique cannabinoids out there.
CBGA, which stands for cannabigerolic acid, is also sometimes referred to as the “mother of all cannabinoids” because it is the main precursor to the three major cannabinoid lines. Special plant enzymes called synthases interact with CBGA and convert the cannabinoid into either THCA, CBDA, or CBCA, which will eventually convert to their neutral versions THC, CBD, and CBC. The CBGA that isn’t converted by synthases eventually becomes CBG neutral.
What Is CBDA?
Before CBGA can become CBD, it must first convert to CBD’s acidic precursor—CBDA. Like other acidic cannabinoid precursors, CBDA will only convert to CBD neutral after being exposed to high temperatures. This process is known as decarboxylation, and you’re likely familiar with it if you’ve ever made homemade cannabis edibles.
How Can Hemp Block Covid?
Now that we know more about the cannabinoids in question, let’s turn our attention to how they may help to block covid.
Part of what makes Covid-19 so infectious is the virus’ spike proteins, which gives Covid-19 its characteristically jagged appearance and helps it penetrate host cells more easily.
Oregon State researchers set out to find some way to block the spike proteins from binding to human cells using a mass spectrometry-based screening technique to test the efficacy of different botanical compounds in this regard. The idea is to find a compound or compounds that will preemptively bind to Covid 19’s spike protein, essentially blocking the spike protein from binding with a human cell. This type of virus blocking has already proven to be helpful in other types of viral infections like HIV and Hepatitis, so it stands to reason it may help treat Covid as well.
What researchers discovered is that the cannabinoids CBGA and CBDA can effectively block these spike proteins.
According to lead researcher Richard van Breemen, “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. 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.”
Does This Mean Smoking Weed Will Prevent Covid?
The study suggests that cannabinoids in conjunction with vaccines could help limit the spread of Covid-19, but what does that mean practically? Are heavy pot smokers immune to coronavirus?
Unfortunately, no. When asked this question by Slate, Oregon State research team member Fikadu Tafesse replied, “That’s a complete misinterpretation. This is just a lab study. We didn’t do any sort of clinical trial, or even [use] an animal model.”
Plus, it’s worth noting that the acidic forms of cannabinoids like CBGA and CBDA are only present in raw cannabis. Smoking them in a joint or bong would expose those acids to heat, causing them to decarboxylate and convert to their neutral forms.
However, this research is incredibly exciting and may lead to future cannabinoid-based antiviral treatment options