Could Cannabinoids be COVID-19 Immunity Boosters?

by Lindsey Daniel

You’ve Heard of COVID-19. You’ve Heard of Hemp. Have You Heard that Early Studies Conducted at Oregon State University Suggest that Certain Cannabinoids Present in Hemp May Serve as an Antiviral for COVID-19?

First off, let me start by saying that while I love Cannabis sativa and all of its “magical” and medicinal properties, I do not in any way intend for you to take away from this blog post that by smoking or ingesting some form or other of cannabis you will become immune to COVID-19 or have your immunity thereto boosted. Heck, if that were the case a lot of folks I am near and dear to who have contracted COVID would have steered clear of it altogether.

Now that I’ve espoused my very own CYA (lawyer short-hand for “cover your a**”) let me get on with it.

A study by scientists at Oregon State University (“OSU”) published on Monday suggests that certain cannabinoids present in hemp demonstrate antiviral properties that block COVID-19 from entering human cells, which could be used to block the process that COVID-19 uses to infect people. While promising, the study is still in the lab phase, meaning the reported results have not been successfully demonstrated on human research participants.

“(CC by https://xkcd.com/1217/)”

While petri dish research results are notorious for being far more promising at the initial stage than they shake out to be when tested in the real world, every once in a while a breakthrough occurs.

In this particular preliminary study, OSU scientists discovered that two particular cannabinoids found in hemp–cannabidiolic acid (“CBDA”) and cannabigerolic acid (“CBGA”)–were shown to bind to the SARS-Cov-2 spike protein in vitro. Sars-Cov-2 is the virus that can ultimately lead to COVID-19. The SARS-Cov-2 spike protein is the part of the cell that the coronavirus uses to enter human cells, so CBDA and CBGA’s ability to bind the spike protein could stop the mechanism the virus uses to infect people.

For the study, scientists placed human epithelial cells, CBGA, and CBDA in a petri dish. The scientists then proceeded to introduce the SARS-CoV-2 protein into the same petri dish. Upon the introduction of the SARS-CoV-2 protein, the scientists noticed that CBGA and CBDA stopped the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein from entering the human cells.

So what does this mean, exactly? Researcher with Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center and lead study author Richard Van Breeman explains that “cell entry inhibitors, like 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.”

At this stage, CBGA and CBDA have only been studied on the Alpha and Beta variants of SARS-CoV-2, meaning that they have not been studied on the much more prevalent variants Delta and Omicron. And as mentioned previously, the study has not progressed beyond the lab phase. Still, researchers are hopeful that the results of this initial study indicate a possible inroads to stopping or mitigating the spread of SARS-CoV-2’s in humans, especially given the safe status of CBGA and CBDA.

While I’m not going to get too excited about this at such an early stage (for better or for worse, I was born a cynic), my interest is piqued and I will follow-up here with any positive developments on this front that follow.