University Researchers Exploring Cannabis As A Treatment For Covid-19
Researchers at Oregon State University will present information on using natural products including hemp to treat Covid-19 at a free virtual event next week, nearly a year after publishing a study that found that compounds in cannabis could prevent infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus in human cells. Richard van Breemen, a researcher with Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center, College of Pharmacy and Linus Pauling Institute, will lead the presentation, which will be held online on December 6.
Van Breeman notes in a statement from the university that while natural products account for about half of all drugs currently in use, natural drug discovery research is not a priority of major pharmaceutical companies and federal drug research funding agencies. Hemp is a particularly rich source of unique natural products, many of which have pharmacological activity.
Cannabis And Covid-19
Earlier this year, van Breemen and a team of researchers identified compounds in hemp varietals of cannabis that show the ability to prevent SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from entering human cells. The researchers found that a pair of cannabinoid acids bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, blocking a critical step in the process the virus uses to infect people. The findings were published in the Journal of Natural Products in January, making headlines as the Covid-19 pandemic continued in hotspots around the world.
“These cannabinoid acids are abundant in hemp and in many hemp extracts,” van Breemen said about the research. “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.”
The researchers found that two cannabinoid acids commonly found in hemp varietals of cannabis, cannabigerolic acid, or CBGA, and cannabidiolic acid, also known as CBDA, can bind to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. By binding to the spike protein, the compounds can prevent the virus from entering cells and causing infection, potentially offering new avenues to prevent and treat the disease.
“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 researchers wrote in an abstract of the study.
Van Breeman noted that the compounds in question can be found in hemp, varieties of cannabis with less than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive compound largely associated with the classic marijuana “high.” While marijuana remains federally illegal, hemp was legalized with the 2018 Farm Bill, making compounds produced by the plant easily accessible across the country.
“These cannabinoid acids are abundant in hemp and in many hemp extracts,” van Breemen said in January, as quoted by local media. “They are not controlled substances like THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and have a good safety profile in humans.”
Vaccines Also Target SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein
The spike protein is the same part of the virus targeted by Covid-19 vaccines and antibody therapies. In addition to the spike protein, SARS-CoV-2 has three more structural proteins as well as 16 nonstructural proteins and several compounds van Breemen characterized as “accessory” proteins, all of which are potential targets for drugs developed to prevent Covid-19.
“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,” van Breeman said. “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.”
Van Breeman will share his team’s findings at the university’s free Science Pub event next week, which can be attended in person at the Old World Deli in Corvallis or viewed online. The presentation, titled “Natural products and hemp: Under-appreciated sources for COVID-19 therapeutic agents,” is sponsored by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Old World Deli, Oregon State Research Office and Oregon State University. Registration is required to attend Science Pub in person or to view the event online.