A team of researchers at Oregon State University has identified certain hemp compounds that may have the ability to prevent coronavirus from entering human cells. The team which is led by Richard van Breemen, a researcher with Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center, just recently published the results in the Journal of Natural Products.
Through a chemical screening technique invented at OSU, the team was able to find that a pair of cannabinoid acids actually bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. In doing so, it blocks an important step that the virus needs to infect people.
The two compounds from hemp that were to be effective are cannabidiolic acid (CBDA and cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). Both of these acids are abundant in many hemp extracts and hemp plants. This means that if the research continues to show that these compounds can effectively stop the virus from entering the human cell, there will be no shortage of those compounds needed.
“These cannabinoid acids are abundant in hemp and in many hemp extracts,” van Breemen said. “They are not controlled substances like THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and have a good safety profile in humans. And our research showed the hemp compounds were equally effective against variants of SARS-CoV-2, including variant B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the United Kingdom, and variant B.1.351, first detected in South Africa.”
Van Breemen also noted that using compounds that block virus-receptor interaction has been used in the past. Patients with other viral infections such as hepatitis and HIV-1 are examples of these types of infections.
The research team was able to identify these two cannabinoid acids through a mass spectrometry-based screening process. This process was invented right in the OSU’s laboratory and was used to screen a wide variety of botanicals including hops, red clover, and wild yam.
There was a paper published in the Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry that detailed how they were using this method in search of drugs that would potentially target the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. As research continued on, the tests began to show that the two cannabinoid acids, cannabigerolic acid and cannabidiolic acid, prevented the coronavirus spike protein to infect human epithelial cells.
“These compounds can be taken orally and have a long history of safe use in humans,” van Breemen said. “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.”
Some of the other researchers that contributed to this study are Hans Leier, Jules Weinstein, Scotland Farley, Timothy Bates and Fikadu Tafesse of OHSU. The research is continuing on as they test new compounds against the live virus.
“Our earlier research reported on the discovery of another compound, one from licorice, that binds to the spike protein too,” he said. “However, we did not test that compound, licochalcone A, for activity against the live virus yet. We need new funding for that.”
This has been a big step forward potentially in the fight against the virus and there have also been other cannabinoid ligands with affinity for the spike protein as well. We will continue to keep reporting updates to their research as they come in.