University studies released on possible use of hemp CBD in the fight against COVID-19

The study shows that CBD increases the antiviral response of cells to three key proteins produced by the SARS-CoV-2 genome, which was an unknown effect until now.

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CANADA – Recent headlines announcing a discovery that includes using CBD as a possible way to combat the coronavirus have many Canadians excited. However, it has expert Ashely Vander Velden, from Naturally Bongins in Wingham, Ontario, concerned.

While the news is exciting, she said it’s also very new research, and people need to be optimistic and careful with this information.

The store’s co-owner specializing in products made from CBD warns people to make sure they understand the research before they run out and buy a bottle of CBD oil in place of getting vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The product you see at your local stores is CBD, an abbreviation for cannabidiol. It doesn’t produce any psychoactive effects.

The versatile compound is ideal for oils, gummies, lotions, creams, and other products. 

CBD is activated in hemp plants from its original form, CBDA. So basically, CBDA is the raw form of CBD.

“Don’t stop doing what you’ve been doing,” Vander Velden said, “Don’t not get vaccinated just because you think CBD is a cure-all. It’s not. It can definitely provide some benefits and some antiviral response from the body, but definitely don’t rely on it because there is not enough studies to prove 100 per cent that you won’t get COVID.”

Researchers at the University of Waterloo (U of W) have been looking at synthetic CBD effects on viral infections such as SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).

In a press release on Jan. 12, U of W announced that CBD appears to prime the innate immune system of cells, potentially offering protection against pathogens like SARS-CoV-2.

The study shows that CBD increases the antiviral response of cells to three key proteins produced by the SARS-CoV-2 genome, which was an unknown effect until now.

Human kidney cells were used to study these proteins, alone and in combination with CBD, and researchers also studied the effects of CBD in healthy control cells.

University of Waterloo’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences professor and lead investigator Robin Duncan said, “When cells in the lungs or the digestive tract are infected with a virus, they have an ability to sense and respond, even before the immune system notices a virus is present. They do this by activating innate responses inside of cells, which form the first line of defence. In the case of COVID-19, however, this response isn’t very good, which has contributed to high infection rates.”

“With an RNA-type virus, like SARS-CoV-2, cells should activate an innate system that cuts up the viral genome, which also causes infected cells to undergo a process called apoptosis, a sort of controlled cell death that gets rid of infected cells early on,” Duncan said. “This could stop an infection, or slow its spread in the body or to others. When we combined CBD with these viral proteins, they had a much better ability to activate this system and to activate apoptosis.”

Duncan described a potentially more exciting possibility that using CBD in therapeutic amounts in cells not exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 proteins seemed to “prime the innate antiviral system of cells, increasing their readiness to respond to viral infection and that this happened without activating apoptosis in healthy cells.”

Maria Fernandes, Waterloo’s post-doctoral fellowship who performed the cell studies, said, “This suggests CBD at the right dose could help cells be in a better state of readiness to respond to a virus, but it doesn’t cause a response unless there is a need.”

Duncan said this idea is supported by evidence from users of a high-dose pharmaceutical CBD licensed in the United States to treat rare types of epilepsy. In that study, patients taking prescription high-dose synthetic CBD had around a 10-fold lower risk of testing positive for COVID-19. 

A similar study conducted in the United States announced comparable findings when Oregon State University identified hemp compounds, using a chemical screening technique invented at OSU, “show the ability to prevent the virus that causes COVID-19 from entering human cells.”

Richard van Breemen, a researcher with Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center, College of Pharmacy and Linus Pauling Institute, and collaborators, including scientists at Oregon Health & Science University, found that a pair of cannabinoid acids bind to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, blocking a critical step in the process the virus uses to infect people.

The compounds are cannabigerolic acid or CBGA, and cannabidiolic acid, CBDA, and the spike protein are the same drug target used in COVID-19 vaccines and antibody therapy. A drug target is any molecule critical to the process a disease follows, meaning its disruption can thwart infection or disease progression.

“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. 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.”

“Any part of the infection and replication cycle is a potential target for antiviral intervention, and the connection of the spike protein’s receptor binding domain to the human cell surface receptor ACE2 is a critical step in that cycle,” he said. “That means cell entry inhibitors, like the acids from hemp, could be used to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and also to shorten infections by preventing virus particles from infecting human cells. They bind to the spike proteins so those proteins can’t bind to the ACE2 enzyme, which is abundant on the outer membrane of endothelial cells in the lungs and other organs.”

Using compounds that block virus-receptor interaction has been helpful for patients with other viral infections, van Breemen noted, including HIV-1 and hepatitis.

“One of the primary concerns in the pandemic is the spread of variants, of which there are many, and B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 are among the most widespread and concerning,” he added. “These variants are well known for evading antibodies against early lineage SARS-CoV-2, which is obviously concerning given that current vaccination strategies rely on the early lineage spike protein as an antigen. Our data show CBDA and CBGA are effective against the two variants we looked at, and we hope that trend will extend to other existing and future variants.”

Both of these studies are reported as peer-reviewed and are ongoing.

The researchers said the discovery of this study is not meant to replace practices that are known to work in reducing the spread of COVID-19, such as masking, vaccination, and other measures recommended by health experts.