Compounds in cannabis may prevent infection from the virus that causes Covid-19 by blocking access to cells, according to a study published this week by researchers at Oregon State University. A report on the study, “Cannabinoids Block Cellular Entry of SARS-CoV-2 and the Emerging Variants,” was published online Monday by the Journal of Natural Products.
The researchers found that two cannabinoid acids commonly found in hemp varieties of cannabis, cannabigerolic acid or CBGA, and cannabidiolic acid, also known as CBDA, can bind to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. . By binding to the spike protein, the compounds can prevent the virus from entering cells and causing infection, potentially opening up new avenues to prevent and treat the disease.
“Orally bioavailable and with a long history of safe human use, these cannabinoids, whether isolated or in hemp extracts, have the potential to prevent and treat infection by SARS-CoV-2,” the researchers said. wrote in a summary of the study.
The study was led by Richard van Breemen, a researcher at Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center in the College of Pharmacy and Linus Pauling Institute, in collaboration with scientists from Oregon Health & Science University. Van Breeman said the cannabinoids studied are common and readily available.
“These cannabinoid acids are abundant in hemp and in many hemp extracts,” van Breemen said, as quoted by local media. “They are not controlled substances like THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and have a good safety profile in humans.”
Cannabinoids effective against new variants
Van Breemen added that CBDA and CBGA blocked the action of emerging variants of the virus that causes Covid-19, saying that “our research showed that the hemp compounds were equally effective against variants of SARS-CoV-2, including variant B.1.1. .7 , which was first detected in the UK, and variant B.1.351, first detected in South Africa.”
The spike protein is the same part of the virus targeted by Covid-19 vaccines and antibody therapies. In addition to the spike protein, SARS-CoV-2 has three more structural proteins, as well as 16 non-structural proteins and several compounds characterized by Breemen as “accessory” proteins, all of which are potential targets for drugs developed to treat Covid- 19 to prevent.
“Every part of the infection and replication cycle is a potential target for antiviral intervention, and the connection of the receptor binding domain of the spike protein to the human cell surface receptor ACE2 is a critical step in that cycle,” said Van Breeman. “That means that cell entry inhibitors, such as the acids from hemp, can 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 that they proteins cannot bind to the ACE2 enzyme, which is abundant on the outer membrane of endothelial cells in the lungs and other organs.”
While further research is needed, Van Breemen noted that research shows the 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 and treat infection by SARS-CoV-2. CBDA and CBGA are produced by the hemp plant as precursors to CBD and CBG, which are known to many consumers. However, they are different from the acids and are not in hemp products.”
Van Breeman also noted that the study showed that the cannabinoids were effective against new variants of the virus, which he says are “one of the main concerns” in the pandemic for health officials and clinicians.
“These variants are known for evading antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 from an early line, which is of course concerning given that current vaccination strategies rely on the early line spike protein as an antigen,” said Van Breemen. “Our data shows that 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 researcher added that “resistant variants may still emerge amid widespread cannabinoid use, but the combination of vaccination and CBDA/CBGA treatment should provide a much more challenging environment for SARS-CoV-2 .”