Cannabis Doesn’t Cure COVID-19
By Matthew O'Brien
Scientific papers seldom go viral on social media, however, earlier this week several successful publications proclaimed that cannabis prevents COVID-19.
One example of the very misleading headlines that circulated across the web this week is an article from Vice.com titled 👇🏽
Let’s break down why such headlines are willfully misleading.
Cannabis vs cannabinoids
The scientific paper in question was published on Monday by a team of researchers from the Oregon State University whereby they outlined how certain cannabinoids ie. CBGA, CBDA & THCA can prevent the virus that causes COVID-19 from penetrating healthy human cells.
At no point in the paper did this team of reputable researchers claim that consuming cannabis can stop someone from contracting COVID-19.
More importantly, the molecules they specified in the paper are all acidic versions of the cannabinoids cannabis consumers love to consume — an extremely important point of consideration.
When cannabis is harvested, it contains acidic versions of cannabinoids, however, when a consumer smokes cannabis they are consuming THC & CBD, as through the process of heating cannabis (decarboxylation) THCA loses its acidic carbonyl group and subsequently becomes THC as seen below.
Labs vs human trials
As the world renowned astrophysicist & cannabis consumer Carl Sagan once said — “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence“.
In this specific case, the study was done in test tubes with computers running simulations to understand the potential impact these molecules could have should humans become exposed to COVID-19.
While these preliminary results show great promise, they are by no means sufficient to conclude that consuming these molecules, or cannabis for that matter will protect humans from contracting COVID-19.
“What happens in a test tube does not always translate into what happens in animals or humans,” observed Dr. Patricia Frye.
A healthy dose of skepticism
Dr. Patricia Frye was by no means alone in casting doubt on these claims made by the media with Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School supporting this.
“These compounds would need to be tested in animals, then in humans, and actually demonstrated to be effective against Covid. This is a long way off, assuming they work, which is by no means guaranteed” he said.
Dr. Grinspoon also took to Twitter to criticize Vice for their coverage “This is so far beyond journalistic malpractice… they did NOT find cannabis can prevent COVID-19 — please print a retraction, you are going to hurt people.”
Health claims beyond COVID-19
I empathize with the excitement we seen across social media following these preliminary results, however, it begs the question — what is required before the cannabis industry can make any health claims?
Currently, there are very few regulations in place to prevent medical cannabis companies in the United States from making health claims.
There are certain exceptions to this statement with cannabis pharmaceutical companies such as GW Pharmaceutical having to complete rigorous research & clinical trials before receiving the stamp of approval from the FDA.
Effects based marketing
Such health claims are by no means limited to the medical cannabis companies, with several cannabis companies whose focus is on the adult-use market having adopted “effects based marketing” in recent times.
This is a practice whereby cannabis companies brand products based on the effects they would like these products to produce.
The problem with this approach is the same underlying problem with the current usage of the terms Indica & Sativa, which is that cannabis affects each of us differently & these over generalizations lack such nuance.
I understand the intent of these over simplifications, however, they are just that — an oversimplification of the complexity of cannabis, and this trading of complexity for sake of simplicity comes at the cost of accuracy.
The cannabis industry continues to attract many of the most talented minds in the world, and I would challenge the cannabis industry to adopt an alternative approach such that consumers can develop realistic expectations as to how cannabis products will affect them.
Cannabis is one of the most magnificent plant medicines we humans have discovered since the beginning of time, however, cannabis is NOT a silver bullet that solves all ailments & illnesses.
There’s a long list of benefits that can be obtained from consuming cannabis, however, in order for the cannabis industry to retain its credibility we need to acknowledge what we do know, and more importantly what we don’t.