Can CBD Stop COVID? Researchers Are Cautiously Optimistic

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The initial excitement over research showing that cannabis may have the ability to prevent COVID became tempered when people realized that you can’t just smoke a joint and protect yourself against the virus.

But the science behind that excitement is real. In particular, two studies have found that CBD, the non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, can block COVID from replicating.

Researchers from the University of Oregon found that two CBD compounds—cannabigerolic acid and cannabidiolic acid — bound to spike proteins on the virus and prevented the protein from taking a step necessary to infect people.

Also, a University of Chicago study found that CBD “showed a significant negative association with SARS-CoV-2” in a sample of medical records from patients who take an FDA-approved drug for epilepsy that contains CBD. They also discovered that CBD blocked the virus from replicating in mice.

“The researchers now say that clinical trials should be done to determine whether CBD could eventually be used as a preventative or early treatment for COVID-19,” according to a statement from the University of Chicago.

RELATED: Cannabis and Covid: New Research Points to Cannabinoids Potential to Block Coronavirus

The researchers used specially formulated hemp for their studies

The University of Chicago statement made a point to caution people that they cannot achieve the same results as the test by using commercially available CBD products. It noted that the “COVID-blocking effects of CBD come only from a high purity, specially-formulated dose taken in specific situations.”

Also, the two acids that blocked COVID development in the University of Oregon research are not typically found in commercial CBD. 

Those caveats aside, researchers voiced some surprise about the effectiveness of CBD against COVID. It did not block SARS-CoV-2 from entering cells. However, it did prevent the virus from replicating early in the infection cycle. 

That’s important because, like all viruses, COVID hijacks a cell’s gene expression functions, allowing it to make copies of itself. But high concentrations of CBD almost completely stopped this from happening.

“We just wanted to know if CBD would affect the immune system,” Dr. Marsha Rosner, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Ben May Department of Cancer Research and a senior author on the study, said in the university statement.

“No one in their right mind would have ever thought that it blocked viral replication, but that’s what it did.”

RELATED: Against All Odds, the Cannabis Industry Grew During Covid

What does all this mean for people who use CBD and cannabis?

The CBD and cannabis products purchased at a dispensary do not contain the same chemical compounds used in the studies. That’s the “bad” news. The good news is that a naturally occurring chemical compound in hemp shows the ability to prevent COVID from replicating and causing a severe infection.

As noted by the University of Chicago researchers, that’s significant when scientists are looking for new therapies to treat people, especially those who lack access to vaccines and as breakthrough infections become more common.

The next step is a clinical trial using human subjects. Rosner said: “A clinical trial is necessary to determine whether CBD is really effective at preventing or suppressing SARS-CoV-2 infection, but we think this may have potential as a prophylactic treatment. Maybe you’re in a hot spot or you think you might have been exposed or you’ve just tested positive — that’s where we think CBD might have an effect.”

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