Clinical Trials for Treating COVID-19 with Cannabis Begin in Israel

Two Israeli companies have started clinical trials to see if CBD combined with other drugs could save lives threatened by COVID-19

Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva is investigating whether CBD with certain steroids can control the infection caused by the novel coronavirus. The study will be led by partnerships with Stero Biotech, an Israeli CBD company, and Clalit, Israel’s largest HMO. 

“We estimate that our CBD-based treatment can enhance the current treatment of those patients who are in life-threatening conditions,” said David Bass, Stero Biotech’s founder and CEO, in a press release. “Hospitalized COVID-19 patients are mostly being treated with steroids, and our study is planned to demonstrate the benefit of a combined solution with steroid treatments. We are hopeful that this study will lead to faster benefit for the growing number of COVID-19 patients in Israel and around the world.”

A second CBD clinical trial is being conducted through partnership between the University of Tel Aviv and InnoCan Pharma. And this one is a bit unconventional: The treatment will deliver CBD through exosomes. Exosomes are cell structures created by stem cells when they multiply. In other words, InnoCan and the university anticipate that the exosomes will act like “homing missiles,” targeting specific cells damaged by COVID-19. The CBD will go to those cells and those cells only.

How could CBD, a non-intoxicating component of weed potentially treat COVID-19? The illness triggers a severe form of pneumonia, which can cause respiratory failure. Although older patients who also have diabetes, high blood pressure, or are obese are the highest-risk groups for dying from COVID-19, younger, healthier people can die from it, too.

The novel coronavirus itself is not what actually kills people. It’s the immune system’s response to the illness that’s deadly. When COVID-19’s pneumonia reaches its advanced stage, the body deploys a “cytokine storm,” a last-ditch effort to eliminate the virus. Cytokines are proteins that signal immune cells to “attack here,” but a cytokine storm floods the lungs with this signal, ultimately killing the patient instead. 

Here’s another way to think about the cytokine storm. Imagine a Navy SEAL just provided coordinates for jets to bomb an enemy airfield. But instead of the jets dropping smaller bombs to level the airfield, they drop nukes instead, wiping out half the country. The nukes are the cytokine storm. 

Right now, doctors around the world can control or even stop the cytokine storm in COVID-19 patients with heavy use of steroids, which can knock down the immune system. Numerous studies have shown that CBD can also dial down the body’s immune response, but it does so through different means than steroids do. The idea is that if doctors can double-up with both CBD and steroids, they’ll hit COVID-19 with a double-whammy of anti-inflammation, potentially saving far more lives than they could with steroids alone.

“[W]e 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,” said Professor Alon Grosman, head of internal medicine at Beilinson Hospital, according to Cannigma

Canadian researchers are also studying whether cannabinoids can help treat COVID-19. However, please keep in mind that these studies are just now getting started. Researchers don’t know if CBD with steroids or stem cells will do anything to COVID-19. So, be wary of huckster snake-oil salesmen claiming that CBD or weed will cure COVID-19. Smoking anything, even cannabis, could make the coronavirus infection worse, especially if there’s any anti-inflammatory effect when the virus is first taking hold in someone.

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