CHICAGO, Ill. — While millions of people receive the COVID-19 vaccination, millions more are still waiting for more doses to become available. Until then, a new study finds a popular ingredient in cannabis can block the virus from spreading through the lungs. Researchers in Chicago say cannabidiol (CBD) keeps SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, from replicating in the lungs and causing severe damage.
According to a pre-print study — meaning it has not been peer-reviewed yet — CBD and its metabolite 7-OH-CBD blocks out SARS-CoV-2 from replicating in the patient’s epithelial lung cells. Normally, the virus uses its spike protein to latch on to healthy cells and cut their way in. From there, SARS-CoV-2 can hijack the cell functions to make more of the virus.
A team from the University of Chicago discovered that CBD inhibits the gene expression in virus cells, including the RNA coding for the spike protein. Researchers say it’s an important find as coronavirus vaccines are still in short supply in various countries.
“To date, few therapies have been identified that block SARS-CoV-2 replication and viral production,” study author Marsha Rosner and the team write in their report in bioRxiv.
“This study highlights CBD, and its active metabolite, 7-OH-CBD, as potential preventative agents and therapeutic treatments for SARS-CoV-2 at early stages of infection.”
Another benefit of using CBD?
Cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive chemical in marijuana, is growing in popularity as a natural remedy for various conditions. Along with pain management and stress relief, previous studies point to CBD having antiviral properties and being able to treat antibiotic-resistant infections. The U.S. food and Drug Administration approved its use as a treatment for epilepsy.
In the new study, researchers treated A549 human lung carcinoma cells which express the ACE-2 gene with CBD. This is the gene receptor which the SARS-CoV-2 spike attaches to in patients.
Once treated, scientists exposed these cells to the virus. After 48 hours, the team discovered that CBD-treated A549 cells blocked the virus’s ability to multiply. Further study revealed that CBD helped to reverse nearly all of the gene expression changes SARS-CoV-2 causes in the host cells.
Researchers believe these results show CBD may be helpful in stopping the “cytokine storm” COVID patients suffer during severe infections. This hyper inflammation takes place when the patient’s own immune system goes into overdrive and attacks healthy cells.
“CBD has the potential not only to act as an antiviral agent at early stages of infection but also to protect the host against an overactive immune system at later stages,” the team explains.
CBD moving to human COVID trials?
Study authors also examined the chemical’s effects on 82 patients taking CBD prior to the pandemic. They compared this group to patients with no history of using cannabidiol.
The results reveal only 1.2 percent of CBD users tested positive for COVID-19. In comparison, 12.2 percent of non-users contracted the virus.
“The substantial reduction in SARS-CoV-2 infection risk of approximately an order of magnitude in patients who took FDA-approved CBD highlights the potential efficacy of this drug in combating SARS-CoV2 infection,” study authors write.
“We advocate carefully designed placebo-controlled clinical trials with known concentrations and highly-characterized formulations in order to define CBD’s role in preventing and treating early SARS-CoV-2 infection.”