A study conducted by researchers at Oregon State University has found that cannabis compounds prevent COVID-19 from entering human cells.
The researchers tested their findings with two COVID variants.
Richard van Breemen, a researcher with Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center, College of Pharmacy and Linus Pauling Institute, led the study, the findings of which were published in the Journal of Natural Products this week.
Breeman said in a press release that the acids that blocked COVID are found in hemp extracts, which do not get people “high.” The acids were found to bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and block a critical step in the process the virus uses to infect people.
“These cannabinoid acids are abundant in hemp and in many hemp extracts,” van Breemen said. “They are not controlled substances like THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and have a good safety profile in humans. And 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.”
“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,” he 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.”
The researchers tested their findings on variants alpha and beta.
Breemen is hopeful that the process will also work on other COVID-19 variants.
“One of the primary concerns in the pandemic is the spread of variants, of which there are many, and B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 are among the most widespread and concerning,” he added. “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. Our data show CBDA and CBGA are effective against the two variants we looked at, and we hope that trend will extend to other existing and future variants.”
The research found that there is also a compound in licorice that binds to the spike proteins.
“Our earlier research reported on the discovery of another compound, one from licorice, that binds to the spike protein too,” he said. “However, we did not test that compound, licochalcone A, for activity against the live virus yet. We need new funding for that.”