Can weed protect you against COVID?

Fikadu Tafesse did not expect to wake up on Wednesday with a text in which his former mentor blamed him for his children’s new interest in weed. Earlier this week, Tafesse, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Oregon Health & Science University, published evidence that some compounds found in cannabis plants may prevent it from infecting coronavirus cells. The internet linked to the idea that weed could protect them against COVID: Twitter users created memes about the bong resin supposedly protected their lungs from infection, the children of Tafesse’s mentor got wind of the miraculous healing powers of weeds, and late night hosts reveled in the incongruous simplicity of marijuana perhaps succeeding where hotly debated, ever-changing public health measures failed .

And it would be easy, right? These days, CBD stores are invading abandoned store fronts like an opportunistic mold; THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana that makes users high, is now legal in 18 states. Small case that the cannabinoid compounds tested in the study were CBDA and CBGA, net the more familiar CBD and THC – they all end up coming from cannabis plants. Crude cannabis flour contains CBDA and CBGA, as well as CBD oil, although in small amounts.

But often users of cannabis products should not consider themselves immune, no matter how thick a layer of bong resin may cover their lungs. “That’s a completely wrong interpretation,” says Tafesse. “This is just a laboratory study. We did not do any kind of clinical trial, or even [use] an animal model. ”

What the researchers actually did was test whether CBDA and CBGA, when mixed with cells in a dish, could protect against coronavirus infection. They had a good reason for doing so: they had previously observed that these cannabinoids bind to the spiked protein of the coronavirus, which the virus uses to attach and enter cells. Monoclonal antibodies also bind to this protein, which is how they protect humans from COVID: by attaching another molecule properly, the spike protein is effectively useless. With enough CBDA as CBGA mixed in cultured cells, Tafesse found, these compounds can also stop infection.

“It’s an interesting first observation,” says Nevan Krogan, director of the Quantitative Biosciences Institute at the University of California, San Francisco. “But a lot more work is needed to say that there is some value here.”

After all, working in a petri dish is a relatively low bar for cleaning a drug. The conventional wisdom in pharmaceutical sciences holds that, out of every 10,000 medicines that show potential effectiveness, only one will make it to the market. Dish experiments should be followed with animal studies, and then comes the strict glove of human trials. And between cells and humans, there is a lot that can go wrong. In a dish, scientists can deliver a medicine exactly where it is needed, but it is difficult to know in advance how medicine will move through a body and whether it will achieve its intended goals, such as the lungs and the upper airways. At this stage it is impossible to know how CBDA and CBGA will go, but the chances are not fantastic.

Other drugs that showed similar early promise for COVID treatment have since failed spectacularly, harming users and sowing political discontent in the process. Ivermectin, azithromycin and hydroxychloroquine all fight coronavirus infection in cells, but we now know that they do nothing to prevent or treat COVID in humans. But at least cannabinoids are safe for the most part; humans have been guinea pigs for millennia in their Phase 1 trial. Richard van Breemen, professor of medical chemistry at Oregon State University and the paper’s lead author, hopes her well-known safety will help him and his team get the connections earlier in human trials.

Even if the cannabinoids perform better than anyone in those trials had suggested, there will still be no reason to smoke more joints or eat more weed brownies, at least when it comes to COVID. CBDA and CBGA are in some ways the “raw” form of the more well known CBD and CBG (THCA plays the same role for THC). When users smoke or bake cannabis in candy, they heat up the CBDA, CBGA and THCA, and transform them into their shorter named counterparts. If you want to get high, this is good news, because THCA has no psychological effects. However, if CBDA and CBGA are your goal, you will need to look for another method of administration. Against Twitter, bonghars contains no CBDA or CBGA at all – and smoking weed, like all types of smoking, can increase the risk of COVID complications.

It is not impossible to get CBDA. Some online boutique stores sell it in a tincture form, although recently it seems to be on order in some places, and you can always eat a cannabis plant if you are really desperate. If the idea of ​​consuming unpleasant-tasting oils with unknown health benefits appeals, they are unlikely to cause harm, although van Breemen warns that “the recommended dosages are there for a reason.”

But based on how much cannabinoid scientists had to administer to protect the cells, Joshua Brown, professor of pharmaceutical results and policy at the University of Florida, thinks these recommended dosages are extremely unlikely to have an effect. And for an oil that probably does nothing, CBDA is expensive – about $ 2 to $ 4 per recommended dose. To even have a chance to protect yourself, Brown estimates, you would have to spend more than $ 60 a day – and the safety of such large doses is unknown, as van Breemen points out.

“It probably will not hurt [users] somehow, except financially, “says Brown.” But at this point, he adds, there is very little evidence that it will help. “The primary benefit we can now get from cannabis,” he says. , “is just relaxation.”

Future Tense is a collaboration between Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that explores emerging technologies, public policy, and society.

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