No, smoking cannabis will not protect you from COVID-19. But these recent findings shed light on opportunities to explore treatment methods that would have global ramifications.
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A covid cell that is being erased to reveal a cannabis leaf
Credit: Getty Images / BlackJack3D / Maren Caruso

Cannabis use is a controversial topic for several reasons, with its psychoactive potential being a big one and the illegal drug trade that supplies it to the masses being another (despite some U.S. states having legal cannabis sales). But regardless of anyone's personal feelings about cannabis use, its popularity is undeniable. The legal cannabis industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and it's rapidly growing. This brings up even more controversy as people are still being imprisoned for cannabis-related crimes, the majority of whom are minority populations.

As it becomes more widely legalized in the U.S., scientists across the country are trying to better understand its effects—on individuals and society as a whole. But with legal stipulations making research difficult to conduct, it has remained largely a mystery to the scientific community. 

Recent research in the Journal of Natural Products has sparked national conversation after finding a compound in cannabis and CBD might actually have some protective potential against COVID-19. The research even speculates that this type of compound might pose a method to treat COVID-19 infection. If accurate, these findings could have major implications globally. To learn more, we dove into the research.  

What the Science Says

To start, the researchers explain they used an affinity selection-mass spectrometer, which is essentially a very powerful microscope that identifies the shape of small molecules and how they bind to their targets in the body. In doing this, they found that the SARS-CoV2 virus that causes COVID-19 has a spike protein shape that binds to specific receptors in our lungs. They also found that compounds in hemp (think: CBD) and cannabis called cannabinoid acids have an affinity for this protein shape. These cannabinoid acids bind to the SARS-CoV2 proteins, blocking them from entering human cells and, hence, preventing infection. More encouragingly, they found that the cannabinoid acids they studied were effective against the alpha variant and the beta variant of COVID-19. Earlier studies in the journal Agingand the Journal of Addiction Medicinealso produced similar findings about cannabinoids and COVID-19.   

Over the last two years, there have been several other studies hypothesizing the protective effect that cannabinoids might have on COVID-19. A study in Future Sciencefound that cannabinoids might help quell the high amounts of inflammation associated with COVID-19 infection, making it easier for the body to recover. Another study in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacologyfound that cannabinoids might help treat mental health and neurological complications of COVID-19. 

So, does this mean you should start smoking cannabis or take CBD to try and prevent getting COVID? Probably not. The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated and boosted, wear a mask and isolate if you are feeling sick or have been exposed. But what this research does do is spark meaningful conversation about potential methods of treatment. 

What It Means 

The summary of the findings from this new study is that cannabinoid acids can bind to the COVID-19 virus, preventing it from binding to human cells (this type of protein can only bind to one receptor at a time). If the COVID-19 virus can't bind to cells, it cannot infect people and cause infection. The researchers also hypothesized that this might mean that cannabinoids, isolated or in hemp extract, could have potential to treat existing COVID-19 infections. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the globe, and has been ongoing for several years. It has led to issues in nearly every industry and touched everyone's lives across the planet. While there is more research needed to support and substantiate these findings, they can be considered very encouraging in the race to find a treatment for the deadly virus. Plus, cannabis and CBD have a long history of safe human usage in certain doses. That said, cannabis and CBD (or other hemp-extracted products) are not safe for everyone. It is important to talk to your doctor if you are interested in learning more about or trying cannabis or CBD. 

The Bottom Line

Much more research is needed, of course. But this study is certainly intriguing and could be a step in the right direction when it comes to prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Especially since cannabis and CBD are generally safe for human consumption and widely available, it warrants further scientific exploration. If you do not currently use cannabis or CBD products, this study is not a rationale to start. Also, this study is not saying that if you smoke cannabis that you will not get COVID-19. Talk to your doctor before trying any new substance, and remember that cannabis is still currently illegal in several states.