A new study this week has potheads gloating, late night talk show hosts snickering and a pandemic-scarred public contemplating a scenario straight out of a stoner comedy: Could cannabis actually stave off Covid?
The truth is, annoyingly, less straightforward than that.
According to the authors of the study, “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,” while “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.”
A report by Bloomberg helped distill all that for the laymen.
“The two compounds commonly found in hemp — called cannabigerolic acid, or CBGA, and cannabidiolic acid, or CBDA — were identified during a chemical screening effort as having potential to combat coronavirus, researchers from Oregon State University said. In the study, they bound to spike proteins found on the virus and blocked a step the pathogen uses to infect people,” Bloomberg explained. “The researchers tested the compounds’ effect against alpha and beta variants of the virus in a laboratory. The study didn’t involve giving the supplements to people or comparing infection rates in those who use the compounds to those who don’t.”
“These compounds can be taken orally and have a long history of safe use in humans,” Richard van Breemen, a researcher with Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center said in a statement, as quoted by Bloomberg. “They have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2.”
There are a few details to keep in mind. The Oregon State University in vitro study hasn’t gone as far as human trials, as limits in medical cannabis research continue to be the norm. Futhermore, cannabigerolic acid and cannabidiolic acid are converted to other compounds after decarboxylation and/or smoking. So smoking, for instance, probably isn’t an efficient way of gaining these benefits.
The study has gone viral and has also prompted laughs and notes of caution from experts. The revelations proved to be quality fodder for late night monologues.
“This would be interesting. All this time we’ve been listening to the C.D.C., we should have been eating CBD,” cracked Jimmy Kimmel on Wednesday.
“You know, it’s funny—all these crazy cures, I’m like ‘Oh, that’s ridiculous.’ Ivermectin, the horse dewormer; bleach. And then somebody says marijuana prevents Covid, I’m like ‘Oh, really? Do tell,” he said.
Stephen Colbert couldn’t resist either.
“Great news for all the teenagers whose parents find weed in their room: ‘Oh, Mom, I see you found the Covid-stopping compounds that I hid in my sock drawer. Those aren’t mine. No, no. Those aren’t mine. I’m just holding them for my friend, Tony Fauci,’” he said Wednesday.
“In other words, the pot enters the body and asks Covid, ‘Are you a cell? You have to tell me if you’re a cell,’” Colbert added.
Cannabis Use Won’t Replace Coronavirus Vaccinations
Still, this doesn’t mean that you should swap a jab for a joint.
As Chris Roberts explained over at Forbes, what the Oregon State study does show is that “that certain cannabis-derived preparations, given in the right amount, might help people fight off Covid-19,” which he said is “exciting stuff.”
“What this research does not mean is that smoking cannabis helps protect you from the coronavirus, or that ‘weed stops Covid’ (at least in the practical sense), or that the reason why someone got sick with Covid while someone else didn’t had anything to do with cannabis,” Roberts wrote.
Forbes highlighted some other reasons to be skeptical of the study, with Dr. Mikael Sodergren, the head of Imperial College London’s medical cannabis research group, telling the outlet that the findings would still need to be “confirmed in animal models and tested on humans in clinical trials.”
Sodergren told Forbes that the study furthermore provides “no evidence to support the smoking or ingestion of cannabis products to do the same.”
The benefits of hemp and cannabis continue to unfold. Dr. Raphael Mechoulam was ahead of the game, praising the health benefits of cannabinoid acids in 2019.