Robert Hart by Forbes Staff writes,
A now-viral study identifying cannabis compounds that possibly prevent infection with the virus that causes Covid-19 ignited a firestorm of popular interest this week as people jumped on apparent evidence suggesting weed could help blunt the pandemic, a far departure from the study’s findings and usual methods of drug discovery.
In a study published in the Journal of Natural Products Monday, researchers from Oregon State University identified two compounds commonly found in hemp—cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA)—that could bind to to the coronavirus and possibly block a crucial stage in how it infects people.
Both compounds appeared to hinder the virus’ ability to infect human cells in laboratory tests, the researchers found, after testing alpha and beta variants of the coronavirus.
The paper piqued a flurry of interest as enthusiasts—including social media users online and mainstream comedians—took the findings as evidence of weed’s pandemic-fighting prowess, something, notably, the study’s authors did not claim.
Dr. Mikael Sodergren, who heads Imperial College London’s medical cannab research group, told Forbes it is “not unconventional” to identify drug candidates this way and said the results were interesting, but cautioned the findings would need to be confirmed in animal models and tested on humans in clinical trials.
This data does not prove cannabis compounds can prevent or cure Covid infection in humans, Sodergren said, and provides “no evidence to support the smoking or ingestion of cannabis products to do the same.”WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Further studies. Sodergren told Forbes the findings warranted “further scientific interrogation,” but noted “the overwhelming majority of positive in vitro (petri-dish) findings in drug discovery do not translate to a benefit seen in humans after conducting clinical trials.”
Finding candidates for possible drugs and treatments can be an expensive, time consuming and onerous process. To speed things up, researchers often test large numbers of known compounds to see if they produce a biological or chemical response in line with what might be expected in a drug treating the condition they are trying to find a treatment for. Positive responses at this stage—like the cannabis compounds—are but the first or many filters the compounds must pass and, assuming all goes well, an approved drug could still be more than a decade away.