This doctor’s insight on treating the pandemic with cannabis
One medical research team in Israel believes they have a small piece to the coronavirus puzzle. In an exclusive interview with The Fresh Toast, Dr. Igal Louria-Hayon, head of the Medical Cannabis Research and Innovation Center at the Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, Israel, says the healing properties in cannabis may be able to help the body fight against COVID-19.
Announced in May, Dr. Louria-Hayon and his team of researchers announced they would begin a clinical trial in studying how cannabis aids in inflammation within the body and if that could decrease the effects of COVID-19. One of the main causes of death with the disease is “cytokines” — proteins that signal cells to turn on to fight — that are released, causing the body to react in uncontrollable ways against the virus. As a part of the body’s endocrine signal process, once cytokines are turned on past their maximum, the proteins become difficult to control and can cause a shockwave of effects, leading to death.
In some studies, cannabis was proven to help regulate inflammation and cytokines, offering better signalling to the body. The goal of the upcoming study is to “examine the receptors to which these substances bond, the cellular messages that are communicated and the extent to which cannabinoids reduce the inflammatory response.”
Especially important to note, Dr. Shlomit Yehudai-Reshef, director of the Rambam Medical Research Institute, shared that her team was able to identify a key method to understanding the virus and the human body’s subsequent reaction: white blood cells. “Despite the complexity and high risk, we found a safe way to separate the white blood cells, including the immune cells from verified patients,” explained Dr. Yehudai-Reshef, clarifying that when the cells were separated, they were easier to study and manipulate.
FILE: University of Lethbridge researcher Igor Kovalchuk is leading a study on medical cannabis as a potential therapy for COVID-19. / Photo: Supplied. Summited photo
Yehudai-Reshef illustrated that when blood samples were accessible, they could continuously learn from the disease, its “biological processes” leading to the blood becoming a key factor in developing treatment.
In discussing his team’s preliminary research and goals, Dr. Louria-Hayon answered the following questions.
How do these findings change the outlook in the healthcare community?
“The current lack in scientific knowledge about cannabis spanning from taxonomies to clinical research has led us to the understanding that we need to change our attitude when examining this plant. By developing a rigorous system of analysis, such that discards anecdotal information and accidental findings, we aim to discover the clinical significance of the cannabis plant’s active components,” he said.
“With each and every experimentation determining the active mechanism and its effect on disease, we see the scientific community acknowledging the necessity to develop our understandings towards medicine.” / Photo: iStock / Getty Images Plus iStock / Getty Images Plus
“With each and every experimentation determining the active mechanism and its effect on disease, we see the scientific community acknowledging the necessity to develop our understandings towards medicine. The manner in which we conduct experiments in Rambam Medical Center is at a level in which our results will enable the healthcare community to practice the use of cannabis in informed and productive ways.”
Do you think this will open the eyes of health practitioners to start looking to alternative medicine in these times?
“Our current time dictates a state of emergency, a time that calls for innovative initiatives in various areas of expertise. In fact, we have seen and are still seeing different initiatives inaugurating during this time of plague in both technology and medicine. If this time of crisis requires unconventional treatments and creative minds, it is our task to encourage thinking outside the box. I believe that physicians treating COVID-19 patients who already found that conventional treatments are not clearly at hand, will turn to examine alternative care. It is, therefore, our task to provide the exact knowledge for novel treatment in this time of need.”
It is only via collaborations that alternative treatments may prove not merely as potential solutions, but as care methods. / Photo: Bertrand Blay / iStock / Getty Images Plus Bertrand Blay / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Have you spoken to/heard from doctors that this has changed their strategy?
“What makes cannabis research at Rambam Medical Center unique, is the fact that we are literally situated at the heart of the hospital. The cross pollination between health doctors and researchers manifests in many ways, stemming from our use of clinical materials, to collaborations with doctors raising questions from the field of practice and joint research. These are, indeed, the very platforms we are establishing for the concrete use of our results, which will be made into treatment. As we are deep into research, it is only via these collaborations which are happening that alternative treatments may prove not merely as potential solutions, but as care methods.”
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