Medical researchers in Israel are planning to study the potential for cannabis to be used as a treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The investigators at the Center for Cannabis Research at Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa have been studying the effect of cannabis on severely ill COVID-19 patients and plan to begin clinical trials in the next few months.
Dr. Igal Louria-Hayon, the director of the research center, said in a press release said that he is leading a team investigating if the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis can help prevent a severe inflammatory reaction known as a cytokine storm. Information gathered on the disease to date shows that many of the patients who have died of COVID-19 have suffered the uncontrolled inflammatory response.
“Cannabis has known anti-inflammatory properties, and we have been conducting advanced research on the use of cannabis to treat other diseases with widespread inflammatory responses,” said Loria-Hayon. “At the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic, we directed our efforts and experience to join the world-wide battle against this epidemic.”
Scientists at the Center for Cannabis Research have identified 15 strains of cannabis that appear to have the ability to prevent a cytokine storm. Louria-Hayon believes that cannabinoids and the body’s endocannabinoid system may help modulate the immune system’s response to invaders such as the coronavirus.
“We hope that by decoding the cannabinoid activity mechanism during inflammatory storms, we can treat COVID-19 patients where conventional drugs have failed,” he said. “The uniqueness of our cannabis treatments is based on our understanding of the mechanisms of cannabinoids activity and scientific findings.”
Research Will Study Cells from COVID-19 Patients
To conduct the clinical trial, researchers will study inflammatory cell samples taken from COVID-19 patients and stored at Rambam’s National Biobank of research specimens.
“For the first time in Israel, a laboratory experiment has been undertaken to explore the effect of various types of cannabinoids on the white blood cells of COVID-19 patients,” said Louria-Hayon.
“We saw the establishment of a Biobank pool for COVID-19 research as essential to securing rapid answers and accelerating critically needed research,” said Dr. Shlomit Yehudai-Reshef, director of the Rambam Medical Research Institute. “Blood samples are the most accessible resource for continuous sampling—to understand biological processes during the disease and to develop vaccines and drugs.”
“At Rambam, dozens of COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized in recent weeks, from whom blood samples were collected for clinical and research purposes” she explained, noting that “despite the complexity and high risk, we found a safe way to separate the white blood cells, including the immune cells from verified patients.”
Louria-Hayon noted that the availability of samples of inflammatory cells collected directly from COVID-19 patients will help speed research.
“We believe that we will be able to accelerate the pace of investigation and move more rapidly to clinical applications, due to access to the National Biobank at Rambam,” he said.
Rambam’s Center for Cannabis Research isn’t the only team in Israel exploring cannabis as a potential treatment for COVID-19. Last month, Israeli CBD company Stero Biotechs announced that it was about to begin clinical trials of a steroid and CBD treatment to fight the disease.