What to Know About Cannabis and COVID-19

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Every day, a new discovery about COVID-19 makes the headlines, and recently, a discovery about cannabis compounds killing the SARS-CoV-2 virus sent stoners into paroxysms of joy.

News stories everywhere seemed to suggest that cannabis protects people from the novel coronavirus — so we should all rush to the nearest Los Angeles dispensary and buy as much bud as we can, right?

Well, not exactly. Here’s what research has actually discovered about cannabis as it pertains to fighting COVID-19:

Cannabis is Not a Preventative for COVID-19

The most recent cannabis and COVID-19 study to make headlines found that some cannabis compounds can bind to coronavirus spike proteins, which the virus uses to penetrate and enter human cells. By binding to the spike, the cannabis compounds effectively disable it, ensuring that human cells stay healthy and safe.

At this news, cannabis users everywhere rejoiced, suggesting that smoking weed every day was keeping them fully immune from coronavirus infection. Unfortunately, there are two problems with this supposition.

First, the study took place in a petri dish, not in a living person. Called in vitro, this type of research is relatively inexpensive and provides insight into effective mechanisms of treatment that might warrant more advanced study in vivo, or in living subjects.

Unfortunately, a promising discovery in-vitro doesn’t always translate to effective treatment. Sometimes, the doses of certain compounds are too high for a real person to tolerate, or perhaps a compound has severe side effects that outweigh its benefits.

We won’t know how these cannabinoids actually interact with the virus inside the human body until more in vivo research is done.


Secondly, the study did not use the cannabis compounds most stoners recognize. THC, CBD and the like are not present in cannabis in its raw form; these compounds are created through a process called decarboxylation, which involves heating the bud to make cannabinoids usable by the human body.

Most cannabis consumers don’t think about the process of decarboxylation because it automatically happens from lighting a joint or pipe.

Before decarboxylation, cannabis compounds have an extra carboxyl group attached; in other words, instead of THC and CBD, there are THCA and CBDA.

These compounds don’t bind to the endocannabinoid receptors responsible for getting users high or providing other well-known effects — but it seems that they do bind to coronavirus spike proteins.

Therefore, getting high won’t protect anyone from COVID-19 because the same compounds responsible for intoxication have been stripped of their ability to combat the virus.

Staying safe from COVID-19 isn’t as easy as using weed a few times a week. Researchers first need to determine whether these compounds are able to bind to the virus in real-world environments, and then they need to develop a tool for delivering these compounds to keep people safe.

It could be several years before there is a cannabis-based preventative for the novel coronavirus.

In the meantime, there are plenty of other ways marijuana users can safely avoid contracting COVID-19. The best way to prevent the spread of the disease is to physically isolate as much as possible and take tests after any suspected COVID exposure.

Three doses of vaccine have proven to maintain the strongest protection against new variants, so anyone who has fewer doses should try to become fully vaccinated as soon as possible.

Wearing a face mask and washing hands while in public spaces for any length of time are also smart strategies, even for the vaccinated.

Moderate Users Shouldn’t Be at Risk for Serious Disease

Fortunately, just because cannabis isn’t a treatment or cure for COVID-19 doesn’t mean users need to abstain until the end of the pandemic.

In fact, there are noteworthy medical advantages to cannabis consumption, even during the pandemic. Medical marijuana patients need access to cannabis treatment for various reasons, and ceasing cannabis use could put them at risk for other negative consequences besides the novel coronavirus.

Though health professionals have some concerns about heavy cannabis consumption, especially via smoke or vape, moderate users can benefit from ordering from a Los Angeles dispensary and getting high.

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