Rambam Health Care Campus to look into effects of cannabis on COVID-19

Several types of cannabis have anti-inflammatory properties that could be very effective in treating COVID-19 patients.

An employee inspects the leaf of a cannabis plant at a medical marijuana plantation in northern Israel. (photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
An employee inspects the leaf of a cannabis plant at a medical marijuana plantation in northern Israel.
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
Rambam Heath Care Campus in Haifa has scheduled clinical trials to see if cannabis could be helpful in treating severely ill coronavirus patients.
Led by Dr. Igal Louria-Hayon, director of Rambam's Center for Cannabis Research, the trials are set to begin in the next few months, and are the first of its kind in Israel.
“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,” Louria-Hayon said in a statement.
According to data gleaned from preliminary research, several types of cannabis have anti-inflammatory properties that could be very effective in treating COVID-19 patients. According to existing information, one of the major causes of death in COVID-19 patients is the "cytokine storm," an immune system response that may result in an out-of-control inflammatory response that worsens the illness and can be fatal.
However, since the body naturally produces and utilizes substances of similar structure to the active components of cannabis, it is theorized that cannabis may actually provoke a similar response from the body.
“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. At the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic, we directed our efforts and experience to join the world-wide battle against this epidemic,” Louria-Hayon said.
The center's researchers have so far narrowed down around 15 specific cannabis strains could prevent the intense inflammation found in COVID-19 patients.
“We detected signs that cannabinoids contribute to the sophisticated fabric network of intercellular communications,” Louria-Hayon explained.
“Intercellular communication based on cannabis-like substances also exist in the immune system,” he said. “If we understand how cannabinoid components are used in intercellular communication, we can help influence this communication in the event of a disease, to disrupt it or empower the communication to convey desired messages.”
He added: “We hope that by decoding the cannabinoid activity mechanism during inflammatory storms, we can treat COVID-19 patients where conventional drugs have failed.
“The uniqueness of our cannabis treatments is based on our understanding of the mechanisms of cannabinoids activity and scientific findings.”
In order to properly understand cannabis's effects on COVID-19, researchers are drawing on samples from COVID-19 patients, which was accessed through Rambam's Biobank database.
“We saw the establishment of a Biobank pool for COVID-19 research as essential to securing rapid answers and accelerating critically needed research,” Rambam Medical Research Institute director Dr. Shlomit Yehudai-Reshef explained.
“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 added, explaining 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.”