Long Chi Nguyen, Dongbo Yang, Vlad Nicolaescu, Thomas J. Best, Takashi Ohtsuki, Shao-Nong Chen, J. Brent Friesen, Nir Drayman, Adil Mohamed, Christopher Dann, Diane Silva, Haley Gula, Krysten A. Jones, J. Michael Millis, Bryan C. Dickinson, Savaş Tay, Scott A. Oakes, Guido F. Pauli, David O. Meltzer, Glenn Randall, Marsha Rich Rosner

Published in BioRxiv

March 2021


The rapid spread of COVID-19 underscores the need for new treatments. Here we report that cannabidiol (CBD), a compound produced by the cannabis plant, inhibits SARS-CoV-2 infection. CBD and its metabolite, 7-OH-CBD, but not congeneric cannabinoids, potently block SARS-CoV-2 replication in lung epithelial cells. CBD acts after cellular infection, inhibiting viral gene expression and reversing many effects of SARS-CoV-2 on host gene transcription. CBD induces interferon expression and up-regulates its antiviral signaling pathway. A cohort of human patients previously taking CBD had significantly lower SARS-CoV-2 infection incidence of up to an order of magnitude relative to matched pairs or the general population. This study highlights CBD, and its active metabolite, 7-OH-CBD, as potential preventative agents and therapeutic treatments for SARS-CoV-2 at early stages of infection.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is responsible for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a pandemic that has overtaken the world during the past year. SARS-CoV-2, related to severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (SARS-CoV), is the seventh species of coronavirus known to infect people. These coronaviruses, which include SARS-CoV, 229E, NL63, OC43, HKU1, and MERS-CoV cause a range of symptoms from the common cold to more severe pathologies (1). Despite recent vaccine availability, SARS-CoV-2 is still spreading rapidly (2), highlighting the need for alternative treatments, especially for populations with limited access to vaccines. To date, few therapies have been identified that block SARS-CoV-2 replication and viral production.

SARS-CoV-2 is a positive-sense single-stranded RNA (+ssRNA) enveloped virus composed of a lipid bilayer and four structural proteins that drive viral particle formation. The spike (S), membrane (M), and envelope (E) are integral proteins of the virus membrane and serve to drive virion budding, while also recruiting the nucleocapsid (N) protein and the viral genomic RNA into nascent virions. Like SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2 primarily enters human cells by the binding of the viral S protein to the angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor (35), after which the S protein undergoes proteolysis by transmembrane protease, serine 2 (TMPRSS2) or other proteases into two non-covalently bound peptides (S1, S2) that facilitate viral entry into the host cell. The N-terminal S1 binds the ACE2 receptor, and the C-terminal S2 mediates viral-cell membrane fusion following proteolytic cleavage by TMRSS2 or other proteases. Depending upon the cell type, viral entry can also occur after ACE2 binding, independent of proteolytic cleavage (68). Following cell entry, the SARS-CoV-2 genome is translated into two large polypeptides that are cleaved by two viral proteases, MPro and PLPro (9, 10), to produce 15 proteins, in addition to the synthesis of subgenomic RNAs that encode another 10 accessory proteins plus the 4 structural proteins. These proteins enable viral replication, assembly, and budding. In an effort to suppress infection by the SARS-CoV-2 beta-coronavirus as well as other evolving pathogenic viruses, we tested the antiviral potential of a number of small molecules that target host stress response pathways.

Open Access


DOI: 10.1101/2021.03.10.432967


Nguyen, L. C., Yang, D., Nicolaescu, V., Best, T., Chen, S., Friesen, J. B., … & Rosner, M. R. (2021). Cannabidiol Inhibits SARS-CoV-2 Replication and Promotes the Host Innate Immune Response. bioRxiv.