CORVALLIS, Ore. — Could the key to beating COVID-19 be marijuana? It may sound like a cannabis user’s dream, but researchers from Oregon State University find certain hemp compounds can indeed prevent the virus that causes COVID-19 from entering human cells.
The study finds that a pair of cannabinoid acids in cannabis sativa (hemp) bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, consequently preventing a critical step in the COVID-19 infection process. More specifically, those two compounds are cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). The spike protein that those two cannabinoid acids bind to is the very same viral destination COVID-19 vaccines and antibody therapies target.
“These cannabinoid acids are abundant in hemp and in many hemp extracts,” study leader Richard van Breemen, a researcher with Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center at the College of Pharmacy and Linus Pauling Institute, says in a university release. “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.”
Stopping COVID’s ability to replicate
The coronavirus responsible for COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, features RNA strands encoding four main structural proteins – spike, envelope, membrane, and nucleocapsid – in addition to 16 nonstructural proteins and numerous “accessory” proteins, according to 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,” he explains. “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.”
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