As far as recipes for internet euphoria go, blending cannabis and COVID-19 is pretty much a sure-fire way to get people interested. Both contentious issues, often talked about and rife with their own unique theories, the two offer a gateway to virality that had, until now, gone unused, but a scientific paper from Oregon State University published this week changed all that, blowing up the internet in the process.
Research published in the Journal of Natural Products, reportedly suggested that two compounds found in hemp, cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA)—had the potential ability to “prevent entry” of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The results of the laboratory tests appeared to show that both compounds hindered the virus’ ability to infect human cells, after testing alpha and beta variants of the coronavirus. Better still, the research specifically related to those acids that become active cannabinoids only after heat is applied.
“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. “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. However, they are different from the acids and are not contained in hemp products.”
In lamens terms, the research suggested that certain cannabis-derived preparations, in the right hands and administered in the appropriate ways could have the potential to help people fight off COVID-19. Naturally, the paper went viral, with the weed community characteristically quick to herald cannabis as the miracle drug they’ve always claimed it was. For a brief, fleeting moment, stoners thought they were on to something, but like all great high schemes devised while high, the comedown revealed a less exciting reality. Not that it stopped anyone from getting excited.
I don't know which strain is supposed to help stop COVID, so I'm just smoking as much weed as possible.
— Gritty is the Way (@Gritty20202) January 12, 2022
Several critics rushed to point out that the study never mentioned anything about smoking weed, but by the time Twitter had taken hold of the story, things had already snowballed. A swathe of posts suggesting that smoking cannabis helps protect you from the coronavirus appeared online, a claim that was never made by the study authors themselves.
While you could argue that it was poor media coverage that led to the misunderstanding, the biggest contributing factor may simply be a poor understanding of the difference between a cannabinoid and a cannabinoid acid. In an interview with VICE, Richard van Breemen, a professor of medicinal chemistry at Oregon State and the study’s lead author revealed that the three compounds used in the study are cannabidiolic acid (CBD-A), cannabigerolic acid (CBG-A), and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THC-A). With cannabis, acids are the biosynthetic predecessors to the cannabinoids that get you high, meaning, on a basic level, the cannabis compounds identified in this research are not the same ones you smoke on your day off. In fact, we don’t really know if these compounds will do very much at all.
“We have no reason to think that smoking weed protects you. Smoking anything isn’t a good idea during a pandemic that affects the lungs; better to vape ground flower or use a tincture,” Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School who regularly writes about cannabis told Forbes. “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. I don’t think many molecules at that level actually pan out into functional medicines.”
The data does not prove that cannabis compounds can prevent or cure the infection in humans, meaning that a lot more tests are still to be completed before anything progresses. van Breemen has outlined plans to continue working on the research, suggesting ‘oral administration’ would likely be the best way forward, should the data continue to track positively. Importantly, neither van Breemen nor his medical colleagues are suggesting you start punching cones to protect yourself, to which we say, ‘well, that’s just, like, your opinion man’.
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