Hemp compounds block COVID-19, study finds

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / Phichaklim1
Getty Images / Phichaklim1

Related tags Cannabis CBDa CBGa COVID Cbd

Researchers found that a pair of cannabinoid acids bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, preventing a critical step in the process the virus uses to infect people.

New research from Oregon State University shows hemp compounds have the ability to prevent the virus that causes COVID-19 from entering human cells.

The in vitro study, published in the Journal of Natural Products​, was led by Richard van Breemen, a researcher with Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center, College of Pharmacy and Linus Pauling Institute.


Van Breemen and his team identified the two compounds, which are acid forms of CBD and CBG, cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). The discovery was made during a mass spectrometry-based screening technique invented in van Breemen’s lab. Van Breemen’s team used the novel process to screen a range of botanicals used as dietary supplements, including red clover, wild yam, hops and three species of licorice.

“The two cannabinoids with the highest affinities for the spike protein were CBDA and CGBA, and they were confirmed to block infection,”​ explained van Breeman.

Interestingly, van Breemen said their earlier research revealed that a licorice compound also binds to the spike protein.

“However, we did not test that compound, licochalcone A, for activity against the live virus yet. We need new funding for that.”

COVID-19 variants

Van Breeman told NutraIngredients-USA​ that they found CBDA and CBGA block infection of the original live SARS-CoV-2 virus and as well as Alpha and Beta strains.

“Both compounds showed similar efficacy for all three forms of the virus. Although not yet tested, we hope these compounds will also be active against other variants,”​ he said. “These variants are well known for evading antibodies against early lineage SARS-CoV-2, which is obviously concerning given that current vaccination strategies rely on the early lineage spike protein as an antigen. Our data show CBDA and CBGA are effective against the two variants we looked at, and we hope that trend will extend to other existing and future variants.”

Just the tip of the iceberg 

Van Breeman explained that unlike CBD in hemp, which has anti-seizure activity and anti-inflammation activity, CBDA and CBGA were not previously known to be pharmacologically active. "Emphasis has been placed on CBD as an anti-inflammatory agent and as an FDA-approved drug for some forms of juvenile epilepsy. Some producers of CBD process hemp extracts to convert CBDA to CBD—not as much is known about CBDA."

The authors made it a point to highlight how natural products are overlooked solutions that are hiding in plain sight.

“Natural products are the most successful source of drugs and drug leads in the history of pharmacology. Although combinatorial chemistry currently receives more emphasis for lead discovery by the pharmaceutical industry, nature continues to be a source of unique chemical structural diversity for new drug discovery.”

Van Breeman added that he hopes the new research will help rekindle pharmaceutical industry interest in natural products.

More research in the pipeline

Looking ahead, van Breeman told us that his team will continue their in vitro drug discovery studies by looking for natural products that can inhibit viral replication at various stages following cell infection.

“We also plan to partner with clinicians to investigate the efficacy of CBDA and CBGA at preventing COVID-19,”​ he said.

Van Breemen said resistant variants could still arise amid widespread use of cannabinoids, but that the combination of the vaccination and CBDA/CBGA treatment could be the one-two punch to stop COVID-19 in its tracks.

Source: Journal of Natural Products
2022 Jan 10. doi: 10.1021/acs.jnatprod.1c00946
“Cannabinoids Block Cellular Entry of SARS-CoV-2 and the Emerging Variants”
Authors: R van Breeman et al.

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