On January 10th, Oregon State University and Oregon Health & Sciences University published some big news at the intersection of the pandemic and cannabis: Their laboratory study showed evidence that cannabis compounds are effective at preventing infection with COVID-19, the virus that has infected approximately 315 million people worldwide and caused 55.1 million deaths since its onset, according to the World Health Organization.
Understandably, the study has been shared far and wide and led many recreational cannabis users to believe that their habitual toke might actually be warding off a virus that’s irreparably altered our current world.
In digging deeper into the science, it’s clear that’s not quite the case.
What this New Science Really Says
The study from OSU clearly states that it was “cannabinoid acids from hemp (Cannabis sativa)” also known as cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), “prevented the infection of human epithelial cells” with COVID-19 by binding to the viruses spike proteins, or the protrusions on the viruses surface that help it penetrate and infect host cells.
But, here’s the rub. Researchers didn’t touch THC in their research, so there’s no possible way to assert that the psychoactive sort of cannabis, the sort most people use recreationally, helps us resist COVID infections. Rather, they’ve found compelling evidence that CBDA and CBGA in the hemp plant, the type of cannabis that contains 0.3% of less THC, may offer some protection against COVID when left in the pre-decarboxylated form.
“These compounds can be taken orally and have a long history of safe use in humans,” one of the study researchers, Richard van Breemen told Bloomberg. “They have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2.”
What this New Science Really Means
Remember: The acidic cannabinoids Breeman and company studied are pre-decarboxylated, meaning they have not been subject to the heating process that chemically alters compounds in cannabis. In fact, it’s what turns THCA into its psychoactive form, THC. Hence, the compounds that researchers identified would be helpful at preventing COVID infections, CBGA and CBDA, would break down if you rolled up the flower and burnt it in a joint. On top of that, smoking anything actually makes you more vulnerable to COVID, doctors say.
“As a reminder, smoking anything makes one more susceptible to catching respiratory illnesses, and smoking cannabinoids decarboxylates whatever’s left to be decarboxylated,” as Dr. Rachel M Knox, MD, MBA, an endocannabinologist and cannabis doctor, said in an Instagram post about the study. “If you want any of the benefits the acidic cannabinoids potentially confer, smoking your cannabis won’t get you them.”
Potential Benefits This Recent Study Supports
So, looks like your favorite pre-roll isn’t necessarily going to protect you against COVID, but that isn’t to say this research isn’t interesting and valuable in other ways. In fact, it strengthens a growing body of research showing that in specific forms, some cannabinoids and terpenes in cannabis may have antiviral affects and medicinal applications.
For instance, several terpenes found in cannabis, like ocimene, a-Pinene, and Linalool, have shown viricidal potential in several studies. As well, a there are two studies supporting the use of CBD “for the treatment of hepatitis C and Kaposi sarcoma and one article reporting the ability of CBD to reduce neuroinflammation in a virus-induced animal model of multiple sclerosis,” according to one 2020 PubMed review, and according to the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, there have been many anecdotal reports of cannabis being used successfully to treat symptoms related to HIV/AIDS.
Hence, despite the public’s misinterpretation of this research, and the fact that research on cannabis’ antiviral properties is too limited to make any claims for sure, this new study definitely adds weight to the claim that certain cannabis compounds may be a beneficial treatment for certain invasive viruses in certain forms.
With this in mind, consuming cannabinoid acids through the incorporation of raw cannabis into your diet with things like teas, juices, and tinctures could protect your cells from COVID-19 invasion. (It’s advisable to speak with a healthcare professional before incorporating raw cannabis into your diet.) That’s interesting news, though admittedly much less exciting than how most people first interpreted the results of this study: That we could end this pandemic with a global smoking circle.