Earlier this week, Oregon State University published a study on hemp cannabinoids and their ability to block coronavirus from infecting cells. The study, Cannabinoids Block Cellular Entry of SARS-CoV-2 and the Emerging Variants, was led by Richard van Breemen, a researcher with Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center, College of Pharmacy and Linus Pauling Institute, were published on Monday in the Journal of Natural Products.
A mass spectrometry-based screening technique, invented in van Breemen’s laboratory, screened a wide range of botanicals commonly used as dietary supplements including wild yam, hops, and clover. Through this research, they discovered that two cannabinoid acids, cannabigerolic acid, or CBGA, and cannabidiolic acid, or CBDA prevented infection of human cells.
The cannabinoid acids, which come from hemp (Cannabis Sativa), binded to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, resulting in successfully preventing the virus from entering the human cell. It’s also important to note that cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) were equally effective against the SARS-CoV-2 alpha variant B.1.1.7 and the beta variant B.1.351.
While more research is to be conducted, this is a major breakthrough in the fight against Covid-19. “They have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2. CBDA and CBGA are produced by the hemp plant as precursors to CBD and CBG, which are familiar to many consumers,” van Breemen said.
Van Breemen explained that affinity selection mass spectrometry, also known as AS-MS, involves incubating a drug target like the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein with a mixture of possible ligands – a molecule or atom that binds with a protein molecule – botanical extract for example, such as the hemp extract used for the study.
“We identified several cannabinoid ligands and ranked them by affinity to the spike protein,” van Breemen said. “The two cannabinoids with the highest affinities for the spike protein were CBDA and CGBA, and they were confirmed to block infection.
The spike protein is the same part of the virus target 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.”
Although further research is needed, van Breemen noted that study shows the cannabinoids could be developed into drugs to hopefully prevent or treat Covid-19.