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Trials Use Cannabis to Fight COVID-19 Launched in Israel

Research scientist in lab experiment
Three clinical trials are looking at how cannabis could help treat COVID-19. (Kzenon/123rf)

With nearly 2.5 million confirmed cases and more than 160,000 deaths from the coronavirus, the race is on for a treatment that can fight the deadly respiratory infection that has beguiled doctors worldwide. In this pandemic arms race a number of Israeli researcher labs are launching trials and treatments to treat COVID-19 — and three eye-catching ones are based on cannabis. 

On Friday, InnoCan Pharma announced that its subsidiary, InnoCan Pharma Ltd. of Herzliya, has began a collaboration with Tel Aviv University to develop a treatment to fight COVID-19 using cannabidiol (CBD) loaded exosomes — small structures attached to cells that are created when stem cells multiply.

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The research, using “revolutionary exosome-based technology,” will be tested against a number of lung infections, the company stated in a press release. 

The patients given the treatment will be administered CBD via an inhalation technique using those exosomes, which the company says could potentially have anti-inflammatory properties that can help in the recovery of infected lung cells. 

Some research performed on animals has shown that CBD does have the ability to reduce inflammation, though it has not been proven to treat or prevent illnesses caused by the new coronavirus or other respiratory viruses.

Combining CBD with steroids

A second study is looking at the combination of CBD and steroids as a treatment for COVID-19 patients.

That trial will initially be performed on 10 COVID-19 patients who are currently receiving steroid treatments at Israel’s Rabin Medical Center. A press release stated that the trial will be conducted over the course of a few weeks and if the proof of concept is successful, it will be expanded with an additional 40 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. 

The press release stated that “steroid treatment is usually the first or second line of treatment of hospitalized patients. CBD enhances the therapeutic effect of steroid treatment and treats the bio-mechanism affected by the virus.”

That trial is being conducted by Israel-based CBD R&D company Stero Biotechs in collaboration with its main partner and shareholder, Mor Research Applications, the TTO (technology transfer office) of Clalit, the largest HMO in Israel.

In August 2018, Stero Biotechs received a patent for steroid-sparing CBD-based treatment that the company said at the time, “has the potential of minimizing the devastating and sometimes lethal effects of steroids.”

Cannabis’ anti-inflammatory properties

The third study is examining whether cannabis — because of its anti-inflammatory properties — could slow down the lung infections experienced by many COVID-19 patients.

Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center launched the study to test the effectiveness of cannabis in treating COVID-19 patients with moderate symptoms, according to a report by Israel’s Channel 12 news.

Indoor growing
Can cannabinoids be used as a disinfectant? (Dmitry Tishchenko/123rf)

Professor Alon Grosman, head of internal medicine at Beilinson Hospital, told Channel 12’s Yoav Even during a segment aired last week that, “we know that cannabis has anti-inflammatory properties and if it succeeds in stopping the cytokine storm [in COVID-19 patients] that would be very big news.”

Cannabis-based disinfectants

Earlier this month, American neurologist, psychopharmacology and cannabinoid researcher Ethan Russo and his business partner Nishi Whitely announced the founding of a company that aims to develop and commercialize “an eclectic range of cannabinoid-centered innovations with medical, diagnostic and industrial applications,” according to an article in Forbes.

In the Forbes interview, Russo was asked about a cannabis-based disinfectant the company is hoping to get on the market soon, and if it could be effective against the coronavirus. 

“It should be,” Russo answered, adding that he expects it to be effective against a variety of fungi and bacteria and not “some pie in the sky things. It also isn’t a sudden bid to capitalize on other people’s susceptibility. There are a lot of people thinking about COVID-19 these days. But again, this is a situation where we may have something that is going to be safe, cheap and effective.”

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