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2 cannabis compounds can stop Covid, says US natural products study. Other scientists sceptical

Researchers in Oregon say two cannabinoid acids commonly found in hemp varieties of cannabis can bind to spike protein of coronavirus and prevent infection of human cells.

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New Delhi: Two compounds found in the hemp form of cannabis can prevent Covid-19 infection by blocking entry of the virus into human cells, researchers in the US’ Oregon state have said in a study published this week in the peer-reviewed Journal of Natural Products

However, the research has met with scepticism from some scientists in the field, who say that a study may not always translate into reality.

The study, titled ‘Cannabinoids block cellular entry of SARS-CoV-2 and the emerging variants’, states that two cannabinoid acids commonly found in hemp cannabigerolic acid or CBGA, and cannabidiolic acid or CBDA can bind to the spike protein of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). 

Compared to marijuana, which is generally consumed by smoking, hemp has a much lower tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. THC is the compound that produces psychoactive effects in humans.

“In follow-up virus neutralization assays, cannabigerolic acid and cannabidiolic acid prevented infection of human epithelial cells by a pseudovirus expressing the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and prevented entry of live SARS-CoV-2 into cells,” the study said. 

The study was led by Dr Richard van Breemen, a researcher at Oregon State University’s Global Hemp Innovation Center, who collaborated with scientists at the Oregon Health & Science University.

“We thought we’d go about trying to find natural products that can stop the virus from infecting cells or inhibit their ability to replicate and go on to infect other individuals. We decided to attack the virus at the starting point, where it enters the cell. That’s the exact same point at which antibodies attack the virus,” Breemen said in an interview to Vice.

He also said he advocates oral administration in the form of a dietary supplement “like a pill or an oil or a gummy”, but clarified that he does not promote these particular compounds as a treatment or cure for someone who is hospitalised and severely ill.

The study stated that CBDA and CBGA are useful against various variants of Covid. However, they haven’t been tested against the Delta and Omicron variants of the coronavirus.

“Importantly, cannabigerolic acid and cannabidiolic acid were equally effective against the SARS-CoV-2 alpha variant B.1.1.7 and the beta variant B.1.351. Orally bioavailable and with a long history of safe human use, these cannabinoids, isolated or in hemp extracts, have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2,” the study said. 

Also Read: India’s cannabis law is nonsensical, it’s time for ‘Big Bhang’ reform

Scepticism among scientists

Some researchers are making a point that most commercially available cannabis in the US, whether sold in licenced stores or in the traditional market, has very little CBD or CBG, and thus might not help if one smokes it.

Dr Rachel Knox, a cannabinoid medicine specialist in the US and president of the Cannabis Health Equity Movement, said in a tweet: “Acidic cannabinoids are pre-decarboxylated, so FYI you won’t get their potential benefit by smoking cannabis.”

In an interview to Forbes, Dr Patricia Frye, a physician and cannabis expert at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, said, “What happens in a test tube does not always translate into what happens in animals or humans. But as it stands, we do not know if cannabidiolic acid or cannabigerolic acid will prevent infection.”

“And given that there are now treatments for Covid infections in at-risk patients (monoclonal antibodies, anti-virals), I would not recommend using cannabis in lieu of available treatments if a person is at high risk of poor outcome,” she added.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: No complete ban on cannabis, medical use allowed: Centre to Delhi HC


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