Fikadu Tafesse wasn’t expecting to wake up on Wednesday to a text blaming him for his former teacher for his children’s newfound interest in weed. Earlier this week, Tavis, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Oregon Health & Science University, published evidence that some compounds found in the cannabis plant can prevent the coronavirus from infecting cells. The internet stuck to the idea that weeds might protect them from COVID: Twitter users have made memes about bong resin Supposedly protecting their lungs from infection, Tavisi’s tutor kids basked in the wind from the miraculous healing powers of weeds, and late-night hosts basked in the paradoxical simplicity of marijuana that might work where ever-changing and hotly debated public health measures failed.
And it would be simple, right? These days, CBD stores invade abandoned storefronts like opportunistic mold; THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana that makes users feel high, is now legal in 18 states. It doesn’t matter that the cannabis compounds tested in the study were CBDA and CBGA, Not The most common CBD and THC – they all come from the hemp plant, after all. Raw hemp flower does not contain CBDA and CBGA, as does CBD oils, albeit in small amounts.
But frequent users of cannabis products shouldn’t consider themselves immune, no matter how thick a layer of bong resin may cover their lungs. “This is a completely wrong interpretation,” says Tavisi. “This is just a lab study. We haven’t done any kind of clinical trial, or even [use] animal model. “
What the researchers actually did was test whether CBDA and CBGA, when mixed with cells in a dish, could protect them from infection with the coronavirus. And they had good reason to do so: They had previously observed that these cannabinoids bind to the spike protein of the coronavirus, which the virus uses to attach to and enter cells. Monoclonal antibodies also bind to this protein, and this is how they protect people from COVID: With another molecule attached to it in the right way, the spike protein is effectively useless. With enough CBDA or CBGA mixed into the cultured cells, Tavis found that these compounds, too, could stop the infection.
“It’s an interesting first observation,” says Nevan Krogan, director of the Institute for Quantitative Biological Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. “But more work is needed to say there is any value here.”
After all, working in a Petri dish is a relatively low bar for drug filtering. Conventional wisdom in pharmaceutical science says that out of every 10,000 drugs showing potential efficacy, only one will reach the market. Dish experiments need to be followed up with animal studies, and then the tough gauntlet of human experimentation. And between cells and humans, there’s a lot that can go wrong. In a dish, scientists can precisely deliver the drug to where it is needed, but it is difficult to know in advance how the drugs will travel through the body and whether they will reach their intended targets, such as the lungs and upper respiratory tract. At this point, it’s impossible to know how CBDA and CBGA will perform, but the odds aren’t great.
Since then, other drugs that showed similar early promises have spectacularly failed to treat COVID, hurting users and sowing political discord in the process. Ivermectin, azithromycin and hydroxychloroquine all combated coronavirus infection in cells, but we now know that they do nothing to prevent or treat COVID in humans. But cannabis is at least largely safe; Humans have been guinea pigs in their early stage experience for thousands of years. Richard Van Bremen, professor of medicinal chemistry at Oregon State University and lead author of the research paper, hopes their known safety will help him and his team introduce the compounds into human trials sooner.
Even if cannabis performed better than anyone might have imagined in those trials, there would be no reason to smoke more joints or eat more weed buns, at least when it comes to COVID. CBDA and CBGA are somewhat the “raw” form of CBD and the more common CBG (THCA plays the same role as THC). When users smoke cannabis or bake it into desserts, they heat up CBDA, CBGA, and THCA, turning them into their shorter-named analogues. If you want to get high, that’s good news, as THCA has no psychoactive effects. If your goal is CBDA and CBGA, you will have to look for another method of administration. against Twitter and bong resin contain no CBDA or CBGA at all — and smoking weed, like all smoking, can increase the risk of COVID complications.
It is not impossible to get a CBDA contract. Some online boutique outlets sell it in the form of a tincture, although recently it seems that it has been ordered again in some places, and you can always take the cannabis plant if you are really desperate. If the idea of consuming foul-tasting oils with unknown health benefits is appealing, it’s unlikely to do any harm, although Van Bremen cautions that “recommended doses are there for a reason.”
But based on how much cannabis scientists have had to administer to protect cells, Joshua Brown, professor of pharmaceutical outcomes and policy at the University of Florida, believes these recommended doses are unlikely to have an effect. And for an oil that probably does nothing, CBDA is pricey—about $2 to $4 for the recommended dose. To get a chance to protect yourself, Brown estimates, you’ll have to spend upwards of $60 a day — and the safety of such large doses is unknown, Van Bremen noted.
“It probably won’t hurt [users] In any way, except physical,” Brown says. At this point, he adds, there is also very little evidence that it will help. “The main benefit we can get from cannabis right now is just relaxation,” he says.
Future Tense is a partnership between Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that studies emerging technologies, public policy, and society.