CBDA & CBGA, two compounds found in hemp and cannabis plants, show promising potential as future subjects for COVID19 research.
According to preliminary research published in January 2022, cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) and cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) bind with the so-called “spike protein” found in the novel coronavirus (COVID19) that is at the root of our current deadly global pandemic. While this research is just getting started, it is further evidence of hemp’s incredible health and wellness benefits to humanity.
The discovery that a compound in cannabis could be a part of future treatments was quickly blown out of proportion. Funny memes about “cannabis curing coronavirus” proliferated on social media. Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel infamously quipped, “all this time we’ve been listening to the CDC when we should have been eating CBD.”
The reality is less clear. While it’s true that CBD might help you feel calmer during stressful times (such as a global pandemic), among other ways it can benefit consumers, it’s important to stress that there’s no substantial evidence that over-the-counter hemp extracts can act as a treatment or prevention. Vaccines remain the first, effective line of defense against the pandemic.
Researchers at Oregon State University, where the study originates, were looking for compounds which might be supplemental ways to combat the pandemic, as an addition to (not instead of) vaccines. What they’ve found hints at future avenues for research, as we’ll explain below, but we don’t want to contribute to the hype or publish another clickbait article on this topic.
Instead, we’ll explain a bit more about CBDA and CBGA, before getting into what this fascinating study actually says and what it might mean for the future.
What are CBDA and CBGA?
When the hemp plant first begins to form, it’s rich with CBGA, or cannabigerolic acid, which is often referred to as “the mother of all cannabinoids.” That’s because all the other dozens of active cannabinoid compounds in the plant (over 100 in all) begin as CBGA. Through time, heat, and multiple natural chemical transformations, they become the other cannabinoid compounds we know and love, including THC and CBD.
Similarly, CBDA, or cannabidiolic acid, is another precursor compound. After beginning as CBGA, CBDA is another transition phase on the way to becoming CBD. Both CBDA and CBGA might have benefits of their own, however. For example, researchers have found that CBDA could be a powerful anti-inflammatory compound both internally and when applied topically to the skin. And although research into CBGA is in its very early stages still, some preliminary studies suggest it can moderate the levels of certain enzymes that contribute to conditions like heart disease or diabetes.
Where can you find CBDA and CBGA?
One reason we’re still learning about these compounds is built into their nature: they disappear unless hemp and its extracts are treated with the utmost care because they transition into other compounds.
Many inferior CBD products on the market contain only CBD. These are referred to as CBD isolates. Others are marketed as “full-spectrum” hemp or CBD, meaning that the final product retains more of the natural compounds found in the original plant. However, CBDA and CBGA can be rare, even in those products, because they are easily destroyed or transformed. Only extracts of the very highest quality, made by top chemists and hemp experts, retain notable levels of these more delicate acidic cannabinoids.
What the Cannabis & COVID-19 study actually says about CBDA & CBGA
In addition to the successful vaccines, it’s become clear that we’ll need multiple approaches to beat COVID-19 as a species. That’s where research like this comes in.
Published in January 2022 in “Journal of Natural Products,” researchers at Oregon State University revealed that CBGA & CBDA bind with the spike proteins on the surface of the novel coronavirus responsible for the current pandemic.
Since the pandemic began, we’ve all become familiar with the spiky ball shape of the virus. The virus uses these spikes to cling to the surface of cells, in an area scientists call the ACE2 receptor. This facilitates infection and spread within the body. However, researchers found that the spikes also bind to CBDA & CBGA.
“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,” explained Richard van Breemen in a release from Oregon State University. Van Breeman is a researcher at the university’s Global Hemp Innovation Center.
In other words, researchers want to stop the virus at any possible stage, whether it’s preventing it from entering the body or keeping it from reproducing once it has a foothold. If the virus particles bind themselves to something else, the hope is they won’t get hold of a human cell at all. Van Breeman and his colleagues successfully tested CBDA and CBGA against the spike proteins produced by alpha and beta, two major variants of the novel coronavirus.
This approach – blocking receptor sites – has been a source of treatment in other diseases, including HIV and hepatitis. Both CBDA & CBGA can be absorbed orally, which could make future treatments simpler, too.
What does the future hold for cannabis and COVID19?
While intriguing, all that Van Breeman and the other Oregon State University researchers showed was an interesting reaction between two cannabis compounds and the COVID-19 virus.
From here, there are many stages before doctors start using either CBDA or CBGA as part of the COVID19 treatment regimen. First, other researchers will need to reproduce the results. Next, comes animal testing, followed finally by trials of safety and efficacy in humans. If all that sounds like it could take a while, you’re correct. And at any stage along the way, experts might decide that other compounds work better at blocking proteins or show more promise for another reason.
Another, previous study looked at the anti-inflammatory potential of CBD, if used in COVID19-infected lungs. But this hasn’t yet resulted in any kind of standardized treatment for the disease.
That doesn’t make these studies worthless. Far from it – we’re inspired every time new research reveals the many faces of hemp. After years of neglect, we’re finally relearning how hemp and cannabis, and their dozens of different natural components, can heal us.