Cannabis, the plant that produces marijuana and hemp, has been used for medicinal and recreational purposes for thousands of years. But recent scientific studies have revealed that some of its compounds, known as cannabinoids, may also have the potential to prevent and treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
How Cannabinoids Interact with the Coronavirus
The coronavirus enters human cells by attaching to a protein called ACE2, which is found on the surface of various organs, such as the lungs, heart, and kidneys. The virus then uses another protein, called TMPRSS2, to activate its spike protein and fuse with the cell membrane, allowing the viral genetic material to enter the cell and replicate.
Cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), are chemical compounds that interact with the endocannabinoid system, a network of receptors and enzymes that regulate various physiological processes, such as mood, pain, inflammation, and immunity. Some cannabinoids have been shown to modulate the expression and activity of ACE2 and TMPRSS2, potentially blocking the entry and replication of the coronavirus.
Evidence from Cell and Animal Studies
Several studies have investigated the effects of cannabinoids on COVID-19 infection in cell and animal models. For example, a study published in the Journal of Natural Products on January 10, 2024, found that CBGA and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), two acidic cannabinoids derived from hemp, prevented infection of human epithelial cells by the coronavirus. The study also showed that these cannabinoids reduced the expression of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 in the cells, suggesting a possible mechanism of action.
Another study, published in the journal MDPI on January 17, 2024, reported that CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in both hemp and marijuana, inhibited infection by the coronavirus in human lung cells and in mice. The study also found that CBD reduced the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-6 and TNF-alpha, which are associated with severe COVID-19 symptoms and complications.
Implications for Prevention and Treatment
The findings from these and other studies suggest that cannabinoids may hold promise as prophylactic or therapeutic agents against COVID-19. However, the authors of the studies caution that more research is needed to confirm the safety and efficacy of cannabinoids in humans, as well as to determine the optimal dosage, delivery method, and combination of cannabinoids for different stages and variants of the disease.
Moreover, the studies do not imply that smoking or consuming cannabis products can prevent or cure COVID-19, as cannabis contains hundreds of other compounds, some of which may have adverse effects on the respiratory and immune systems. Therefore, people should not self-medicate with cannabis or rely on it as a substitute for approved vaccines and treatments.