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OSU study suggests hemp compounds could help block coronavirus

The study analyzed a range of botanical compounds to see how well they would bind to the spike protein on SARS-CoV-2.

CORVALLIS, Ore. — A recent study conducted by Oregon State University researchers found that certain hemp compounds might be able to prevent SARS-CoV-2 — the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — from entering human cells, according to a press release from the university.

Oregon Health and Science University researchers also contributed to the study, which was published on Tuesday in the Journal of Natural Products.

Hemp is a strain of cannabis plant that has been cultivated to have a minimal concentration of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and is instead used in other commercial products such as textiles, cosmetics or food.

The researchers found that two compounds in hemp — cannabigerolic acid and cannabidiolic acid — can bind to the spike protein that the virus uses to enter human cells, potentially blocking the virus from infecting people.

The study analyzed a range of plant-derived compounds used as dietary supplements including red clover, wild yam, hops and licorice using a mass septectomy-based screening technique developed at OSU, according to the news release. The compounds were ranked by their affinity to bind with the spike protein, and the two hemp-derived acids came out on top.

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“These cannabinoid acids are abundant in hemp and in many hemp extracts,” lead researcher Richard van Breemen said in a statement. “They are not controlled substances like THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and have a good safety profile in humans.”

The compounds are precursors to more well-known hemp-derived substances such as CBD and CBG, but are typically not contained in hemp products, according to van Breemen. More research is needed to find the correct dosage for human consumption, he added.

Smoking cannabis does not offer any protection from the virus that causes COVID-19. 

"The benefit for preventing viral infection of cells must come from cannabinoid acids, which are heat sensitive and must not be smoked, or it would convert them to CBD and so forth," van Breemen said. "So that wouldn't work for the antiviral effect."

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The study tested the effectiveness of the compounds against the original, alpha and beta strains of SARS-CoV-2, according to the news release, but not more recent variants such as delta and omicron.

"I don't think the compounds in hemp are the answer to the pandemic, but rather part of the solution," van Breemen said. 

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