Updated: Oct 9, 2022
On January 10, 2022, a group of researchers from Oregon State University released a study entitled "Cannabinoids Block Cellular Entry of SARS-CoV-2 and the Emerging Variants" in the Journal of Natural Products.
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The study's authors concluded that the marijuana-derived cannabinoids CBDA (cannabidiolic acid) and CBGA (cannabigerolic acid) "have the potential to prevent as well as treat infection by SARS-CoV-2."
Almost predictably, a variety of national media outlets capitalized on the opportunity to generate sensational or arguably scientifically inaccurate headlines from the combination of COVID-19 fears and the controversial topic of hemp/cannabis.
Forbes chose to run with "Study Finds Cannabis Compounds Prevent Infection By Covid-19 Virus," conveniently dropping the "potential" part of the peer-reviewed scientific report. Yahoo Finance also chose to eat the low hanging fruit when it came to its terse article title: "CBD Fights Covid."
Forbes chose to run with "Study Finds Cannabis Compounds Prevent Infection By Covid-19 Virus," conveniently dropping the "potential" part of the peer-reviewed scientific report. Yahoo Finance also ate the low hanging fruit with its terse title "CBD Fights Covid."
CBS in New York resisted the urge to drop a claim of overt prevention with the title "New Study Suggests Some Cannabis Compounds May Prevent COVID-19 From Infecting Human Cells" and the inclusion of rational terms such as "suggests" and "may."
Ironically, the New York Post dialed it in better than Forbes with its headline "Some Marijuana Compounds Can Block Coronavirus from Entering Cells: Study." Likewise, The Jerusalem Post touted the moderate headline "Can Weed Stop COVID-19? Two Hemp Compounds Might - Study."
Popular Science Saves the Day
Helping clear the trending new urban legend that smoking hemp or cannabis prevents or treats COVID-19, Popular Science delivered a potent dose of reality with its January 13 article "No, Smoking Weed Will Not Protect You Against COVID-19," including the subtitle, "Let's Be Blunt: Don't Consume Cannabis to Prevent COVID."
Reported the science magazine:
"The [OSU research study] has received a flood of attention, even making rounds on late night television shows. 'All this time we've been listening to the CDC, we should've been eating CBD,' joked Jimmy Kimmel. Stephen Colbert said this is 'great news for all the teenagers whose parents find weed in their room,' who now say things like, 'Those aren’t mine. I'm just holding them for my friend, Tony Fauci.' The study has also inspired several viral tweets, like 'Raise your hand if you had weed to the rescue on your 2022 pandemic bingo card.'
"These jokes and celebrations are misguided—the study shows no evidence that smoking weed or consuming CBD gummies and other popular hemp products can protect or prevent COVID-19. CBGA and CBDA, the cannabis compounds mentioned in the research, are precursors to the compounds actually found in cannabis products: They are acids in hemp that are turned into CBG and CBD, respectively, when cannabis plants are heated and dried to make marijuana."
Not a Clinical Trial
The magazine pointed out that the hyped study did not involve actual human subjects, a more advanced stage of scientific testing called a clinical trial.
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"Another important caveat to note is that this study did not involve any human clinical trials. The researchers conducted laboratory assays and looked at human epithelial cell cultures. The team used those cells as models to show how the two cannabis compounds could run interference on SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins and prevent infection.
"But what happens in a petri dish or test tube does not always apply in the human body. Until further research is conducted, especially in living humans, researchers won't know for sure what these compounds' protective value, if any, is against COVID-19.
"'These compounds would need to be tested in animals, then in humans, and actually demonstrated to be effective against COVID. This is a long way off, assuming they work, which is by no means guaranteed,' said Peter Grinspoon, MD. 'I don’t think many molecules at that level actually pan out into functional medicines.'"
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