Nah, smoking weed won’t protect you from COVID

Here’s a realistic breakdown of the promising cannabis research everyone texted to their parents.

Maxine McCrann
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Originally Published: 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been looking for a way to use cannabis in the fight against COVID. What could be better than finding out that the treatment for coronavirus will also get you high? Well, some pioneering scientists have discovered that certain cannabis compounds can stop the coronavirus from invading healthy cells. Unfortunately, contrary to the really excited headlines, that doesn’t mean that getting faded will protect you from catching the virus. Here’s what we actually know about the rumor that taking cannabis can “block” COVID.

A new study in the Journal of Natural Products, which was published this week, suggests that certain cannabis compounds (also called cannabinoids) can block the virus from entering healthy cells in a laboratory. To be clear, this technique has not been tested on humans. First, researchers incubated some live coronavirus cells with the cannabinoids CBG-A and CBDA. Then, they injected them into human epithelial cells. What they found was that cells injected with the cannabinoid treated coronavirus cells did not get infected, but the control group, which was injected with just coronavirus did. In other words, the cannabinoids neutralized the virus and prevented the cells from being infected, which is, indeed, pretty cool. But it’s no reason to call your weed guy and order an ounce, stat.

The cannabinoid treatment was effective in preventing infection from more than one strain of the virus. “Our data show CBDA and CBGA are effective against the two variants we looked at, and we hope that trend will extend to other existing and future variants,” Richard van Breemen, a researcher with Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center and lead author on the study, said in a press release. That means that cannabinoids could potentially be protective against multiple strains of the coronavirus, although van Breeman noted that resistant mutations could emerge.

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The thing is that while this research is really promising, it doesn’t mean that smoking weed will prevent you from getting COVID. The cannabinoids used in these experiments were extracted from hemp, but are not available in any existing hemp, THC, or CBD products, VICE reported. And the concentrations of cannabinoids found to be effective were extremely high. But, the authors noted in their research, those concentrations are clinically achievable, so it is possible new treatments using this age-old medicinal can be developed. But that’ll likely take a minute.

“These compounds can be taken orally and have a long history of safe use in humans,” van Breeman stated in the release. Weed-based COVID prevention, however, is not meant as a standalone. The idea is that we may be able to combine getting vaccinated with using cannabinoid medicinals in order to give ourselves maximum protection against COVID. It’s important to note that these results were produced in a lab, and it’s too soon to say how these findings will play out in real human bodies.

There is reason to be cautiously optimistic about how much weed can help protect us from COVID. But unfortunately, cannabis misuse is still considered a risk factor when it comes to COVID, and research suggests that even those who use marijuana for medical reasons may be at higher risk of dying from coronavirus. Let’s not forget that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and that smoking (or vaping) isn’t great for your lungs. So even if there is some — as yet unproven — benefit of using cannabis to prevent COVID, you are unlikely to reap that benefit by taking a strong bong rip.

Still, there is other evidence that compounds that come from cannabis could be a potent weapon in our battle against coronavirus. The U.S. government is currently studying how CBD may help those struggling with the symptoms of long-COVID, and other studies are looking at how cannabinoids may ease some of the discomfort of people with coronavirus. So while the latest rumor that weed will cure COVID may not be reality-based, fingers crossed that COVID-free high times are ahead.