Smoking weed will not protect you from Covid-19; understand

Tunatura/Getty Images

Tunatura/Getty Images

Acids present in the marijuana plant may help prevent Covid-19, a group of US scientists has found

Scientific articles don’t usually go viral, but this week, a team of researchers at Oregon State University published a study that contained the magic formula for blowing up the internet: cannabis and covid-19.

According to research published last Monday in the Journal of Natural Products (and later reposted in nearly every media outlet around the world), two compounds found in hemp plants — specifically, acids that become active cannabinoids only after heat application – “prevented the entry” of the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 into isolated human cells.

SEE ALSO: Spain considers tackling Covid-19 like the common flu

This could mean that certain cannabis-derived preparations, given in the right amount, can help people fight Covid-19. Which is good news.

what is this search no What it means is that smoking weed helps protect you from the coronavirus, that “marijuana kills Covid” (at least in a practical sense) or that the reason someone got infected while someone else had nothing to do with cannabis.

However, as soon as the news appeared in the media and on social networks yesterday (12) morning, that was the conclusion drawn from the survey by the public.

Of course, the study authors made no such claims and anyone reading the research — or, in defense of the press, any coverage beyond the headlines — would know that. The problem is twofold: few people do this, and even those who do don’t exactly understand the difference between a cannabinoid and a cannabinoid acid.

In an interview with VICE, Richard van Breemen, professor of medicinal chemistry at Oregon State and lead author of the study, explained that the researchers wanted to investigate what natural products can help humans fight the virus.

They found that three compounds in hemp “had a high ability to bind to the spike protein,” the one that allows the new coronavirus to enter human cells so easily and thus spread Covid-19 so quickly.

SEE ALSO: T cells from common colds may protect against Covid-19, study finds

These three compounds are cannabidiolic acid (CBD-A), cannabigerolic acid (CBG-A) and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THC-A). In cannabis biochemistry, acids are the biosynthetic precursors of the cannabinoids that activate receptors in humans – i.e., get you high. This means that, in simple terms, the cannabis compounds studied in this research are not the same ones most marijuana users look for when consuming the weed.

AND they are not the compounds you ingest when eating or smoking cannabis, because these acids are transformed when heat is applied – from THC-A to THC, from CBD-A to CBD, from CBG-A to CBD. And neither CBD, THC, or CBG are “active against the virus,” van Breemen said.

As the researcher told VICE, a “food supplement” like a gummy bear or concentrated oil that contains these three compounds can help people stay healthy. (Researchers were unable to study THC-A due to US federal drug laws.)

But since most commercially available cannabis in the US, whether sold in licensed stores or in the mainstream market, has very little CBD or CBG, much of it will do nothing for Covid-19 – and no smoked cannabis will do anything.

And we still don’t even know if these compounds will do anything.

“What happens in a test tube doesn’t always translate to what happens in animals or humans,” he noted. Patricia Frye, a physician and cannabis specialist who practices integrative medicine and teaches at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. “We don’t know whether cannabidiolic acid or cannabigerolic acid will prevent infection.”

“And given that treatments now exist for Covid infections in critically ill patients (monoclonal and antiviral antibodies, for example), I would not recommend using cannabis over the available medications if a person is in a high-risk situation,” he added.

SEE ALSO: US regulator authorizes MSD’s Covid antiviral pill for home use

Frye noted that both the study authors and most of the news coverage were perfectly clear. But not everyone knows the difference between THC and THC-A. For that reason, “I’m sure many in the public who don’t understand what acids are might think that smoking cannabis can prevent Covid,” she said.

“We have no reason to think that smoking weed protects you,” agreed the Dr Peter Grinspoon, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School, who regularly writes about cannabis. “Smoking anything is not a good idea during a pandemic that affects the lungs.”

And Grinspoon gave the story one more cold shower. “These compounds would need to be tested in animals, then in humans and actually proven to be effective against Covid. This is a long way off assuming they work, which is by no means guaranteed,” he said.

About Abhishek Pratap

Food maven. Unapologetic travel fanatic. MCU's fan. Infuriatingly humble creator. Award-winning pop culture ninja.

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