The headlines, rife with weed-related puns, read “Cannabis Compounds May Prevent Coronavirus Infection”. The tweets, being as they typically are, read “smoking weed cures covid!” Either way, the news has been fairly inescapable: research shows, cannabinoids can prevent COVID-19 infections.
But will a joint a day actually keep the pandemic away? The truth, as usual, lies somewhere deeper in the details. In today’s article we’ve sat down with High There’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Melanie K. Bone to learn her expert opinion – Let’s dive in.
For anyone who might have missed the news-slash-social media frenzy of the last few days, a quick recap:
On Jan. 10th, 2022, a study published from Oregon State University showed that certain compounds from the hemp plant were effective at preventing the entry of live SARS-CoV2 into human cells in the laboratory.
This has led to the theory that it might be possible to block the COVID virus by ingesting specific cannabinoids. Essentially (and simplified a bit), when taken orally these cannabinoid acids would bind with the coronavirus, then blocking the disease from being able to propagate.
You’ll note we italicized the word “acids” up there; it’s with good reason. As said by Dr. Bone during our conversation:
“If you look at that article it didn’t talk about cannabis – it was talking about hemp-derived cannabinoids.” An important distinction, as she would further delineate.
“Remember that elements in marijuana include THC as primarily the dominant component, and that wasn’t part of this study – It was something called CBDA and CBGA. These cannabinoids are an element of the plant, like THC, but they are not psychoactive, and in fact because they have the “A” at the end of them they are not activated. This means they’re mostly found in raw hemp, not processed hemp.”
The Difference An Acid Makes
Our article on “THC vs. THCA” goes into this topic at greater length, but in summary: Most of us think of the cannabis flower as containing THC, specifically Delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is the substance that gets you high from marijuana, but contrary to popular belief it is not naturally found in large quantities in the raw cannabis plant itself.
Instead, cannabis contains (among many other molecules) THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. THCA, in itself, is a non-psychoactive substance; though it may have some therapeutic benefits in its own right, THCA will not provide a mental or physical “high” in any form.
To provide a psychoactive benefit, THCA must be turned into THC, a process that happens when THCA is exposed to heat. If you’ve ever made edibles from cannabis bud before you’ll be familiar with the term “decarboxylation”, a process which translates to “removing the carboxyl acid group from the THCA molecule”. This also occurs when cannabis is being smoked or vaporized, the THCA within being transformed into THC, and providing the benefits desired.
So where does this loop back around to your daily blunt curing covid? That being the point – It can’t.
The Details & The Devil Therein
Beyond the team’s usage of an orally-ingested testing method (and we’ll get back to that in a bit), the research paper in question shows that THCA, alongside CBGA (cannabigerolic acid) and CBDA (cannabidiolic acid), were both effective at prevention. And, just as with THCA and THC, CBGA and CBDA are both the precursor forms of CBG and CBD – Precursor forms that are lost upon being exposed to high temperatures.
“You can still process hemp and get CBDA and CBGA,” says Dr. Bone, “but it’s not always easy to get your hands on and there are not a lot of companies that are producing it now.”
Then… if smoking and vaping won’t handle it, how does one use cannabis to help prevent the coronavirus? There may be a way forward in edibles.
In an interview with VICE, the lead author of the study in question stated that “dietary supplements”, such as gummies or tinctures, containing sizable amounts of the three cannabinoids in question could help with overall prevention.
But a deeper look into the study shows that even then, the prevention offered may not be as relevant as one would hope.
As Dr. Bone reminds us: “Remember that the studies that they did looked at a benchtop model using “human shells” – not humans – and they found there was resistance to the Alpha and Beta variants of COVID-19… but we’ve been dealing with Delta and Omicron.”
“Having said that, it raises something that those of us who are in the field of cannabis have always believed, even without this study. Namely, that cannabinoids have properties that can help with wellness such that we endorse using them for general health across the board. It would not surprise me if, down the line, we did find evidence that they offered help with variants other than Alpha/Beta, such as Delta and Omicron.”
So in summation: Are hits from the bong going to cure or stop the spread of COVID-19 and its associated variants? No, not at all, and for a number of reasons. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t potential in the research, nor potential in using cannabinoids as therapeutic prevention from the coronavirus.
Want To Try CBDA & CBGA Anyway?
All of the above said, if you truly want to supplement your dietary regimen with CBDA and CBGA, there are two reliable ways to do so. First, to find a supplier that can offer CBDA and CBGA concentrates with verified, publicly available laboratory results.
As per Dr. Bone: “I’ve already looked it up and there are many places selling [CBDA & CBGA] without giving you access to their certificates. You don’t know the purity, whether there’s contamination – It worries me that we’re going to see people jumping off the deep end trying these untested, unverified substances.”
Our article on the importance of understanding cannabinoid labels goes into this topic at greater length, for anyone wanting a deep dive on the subject, but in short? If your supplier does not have a Certificate of Analysis available, we officially recommend staying far away.
The Raw Cannabis Alternative
But, failing finding a reputable provider, if these two compounds are found in the raw cannabis plant, could one potentially just… eat cannabis? As a matter of fact, you can, and the benefits can be surprising.
“I advocate it all the time, because of its anti-inflammatory properties,” says Dr. Bone. “I tell patients you can take some raw leaves and add it to tea. The tea is not going to be so hot as to decarboxylate it,” ultimately leaving the fully-carboxylated CBDA, CBGA, and THCA to seep out into the water.
“I don’t think cannabis juice tastes so good,” she added with a laugh, “but I do believe that either chopping it up and putting it in [a dish] or just putting it in a cup of tea? As long as you don’t decarboxylate it, you’re getting the raw plant and you should be getting some of those elements.
However, she warns that this method may be too low-dose to be effective for all cases. “You’re not going to be getting high doses of it – Remember, it isn’t a tincture, it’s not distilled or concentrated in something like an oil. But I do think [eating raw cannabis] is a reasonable thing just for overall health and inflammation.”
Nobody wants to be a wet blanket. But somebody has to be the wet blanket sometimes, and unfortunately, today, that’s us.
Ultimately we have to report that, no, you can’t toke the covid away; even if you were to follow the study exactly as-printed it wouldn’t have guaranteed results (unless you somehow have the Alpha or Beta variant of the coronavirus, and are also a mouse).
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t potential in said study, and even with the caveats above, as Dr. Bone reminds us, so long as your supplier is willing to verify the safety of their cannabis product, your consumption should be safe too.
“I do worry that people are now going to go out and buy CBDA and CBGA from places we really don’t know that much about. But, here’s another way to look at it: Under the care and guidance of a qualified cannabis practitioner, will it hurt you to try?”
A smile, and a calming shake of the head. “I don’t think so.”
We couldn’t agree more.