For millennia, drugs such as marijuana, magic mushrooms, MDMA, and more, have been used recreationally throughout the world, with many different benefits. But since former President Ronald Reagan's War on Drugs, the world of narcotics and other recreational substances has not only been illegal but has also had negative connotations. Unfortunately, this meant that such substances were not being used even in the beneficial ways they could have been. There are many potential outcomes and uses that such substances could have for the better, like treating anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but because of their legality, scientific research in that field was nearly nonexistent– until recently. There has been a rise in the understanding that such drugs don't only cause harm and addiction, as has been portrayed to us by our governments for many years, but rather that they have the potential to alleviate pains and cure people from various diseases and illnesses when used correctly. Many Israeli startups are acting fast on these studies, looking to become the first of their kind to invent breakthrough treatments for patients with various conditions, using safe combinations of “illegal” substances. Here are just a few:
The female reproductive system is quite complex, and many women suffer from various gynecological diseases and hardships, such as endometriosis, PMS, dysmenorrhoea, menopause, and more. Gynica is an Israeli startup that develops medical treatments using cannabis to target these female gynecological problems. For example, endometriosis is a chronic condition causing severe pain and discomfort as the endometrial tissue grows outside of the uterus in the abdominal cavity or internal organs during the menstrual cycle. This causes inflammation and many more issues other than just pain and discomfort such as bowel and urinary disorders, dyspareunia (painful sex), and neuropathy. Endometriosis is the leading cause of infertility and early hysterectomies and affects around 200 million women worldwide. There is currently no known cause of endometriosis as well as no known cure. The current treatments are anti-inflammatory drugs, surgeries, and hormones which often cause a decrease in quality of life. Deriving active and distinct ingredients from the cannabis plant, Gynica looks to treat endometriosis without the adverse side effects the anti-inflammatory drugs have using one of two products: a vaginal suppository or a lubricant gel. These products are a promising solution for women hoping to ease their symptoms; it is the cannabis plant, that has been frowned upon for so many years, that will bring these women comfort.
Gynica was founded in 2017 by Yotam Hod (CEO) and Dor Hershovitz. With a total of ten employees, the rest of their team consists of Dr. Sari Prutchi Sagiv (VP R&D), Haim Barsimantov (CTO), Lenore Shoham (Managing Director), and Meredith Rose Burak (Director of Global Relations). Gynica is based in Jerusalem and has raised over $5.5 million to date through Tikun Olam Pharmaceuticals. Partnering with Asana Bio Group, who also own Lumir Lab, Gynica has currently completed the world’s first preclinical trial to identify the most effective cannabidiol to treat endometriosis patients. Their vaginal products are planned to be brought to market in the next year with the approval of the Israeli Ministry of Health.
Watching your loved one quickly slip away from the person they once were all because of a debilitating disease such as Alzheimer’s or dementia; the onset of such illnesses makes both patients and their loved ones feel helpless, especially because there are no known cures. Dementia and Alzheimer's are damaging, chronic, and life-altering brain diseases that impair the ability to remember, think or make day-to-day life decisions. Additionally, patients can have difficulty speaking, and a hard time expressing thoughts, reading, or writing, and they often find themselves wandering and getting lost even in a familiar neighbourhood. Ixtlan Bioscience is a biotech company focusing on developing psilocybin-based (a substance found in magic mushrooms) treatments which are administered in micro-doses aimed at remedial treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease. Their patent-pending Ixtlan AD Kit is meant for at-home use. Psilocybin agonists such as 5-HT2A enhance the power of gamma-frequency (an indicator in humans of a healthy brain and communication channel involving attention and memory), which emphasizes the role it can have in reducing focal Alzheimer’s and dementia. Psilocybin has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Ixtlan Bioscience intends for everyone to benefit from safe and accessible psilocybin medicine, hence their push for an at-home kit. The Ixtlan AD kit consists of micro-dosing of encapsulated 5HT2A receptors in 1/10th of a dose, explicit use protocol, games/exercises which are tailored for different levels of cognitive impairment, an application that monitors the patient, and a home test for detecting psilocybin metabolites concentrations. This also provides data on the individual and the effects the drug is having on their therapeutic power. The benefit of an at-home kit reduces the cost for the patient as they do not need a one-on-one setting with a therapist or doctor and don't have to waste time in a designed clinic. Because of the tiny dose (1/10th), the patient is not cognitively or physically impaired, so they can still carry out day-to-day tasks and resume normal daily activities. Ixtlan Bioscience hopes to provide a glimpse of hope for patients and their loved ones dealing with memory-altering diseases.
Ixtlan Bioscience was founded in 2020 by Yehonatan Cavens (CEO), Ana Parabucki, Ph.D. (Chief Scientist), and Itamar Borochov (COO). Other members of the team include Ori Liraz, Ph.D. (Scientific Advisory), and Christopher Freeman, MD (Scientific Advisory). Ixtlan Bioscience has conducted various clinical trials from pre-clinical, to phase 2 and has had many collaborations with major academic research institutions in Israel, the UK, Portugal, Spain, the U.S., Germany, and Australia.
The COVID-19 pandemic is still here, and some patients of it have been plagued with long-term symptoms relating to it. Though the virus affects the body in numerous ways, the lungs are the most affected organ; this can cause further lung complications such as pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and more. As the virus’s effect on the lungs is severe, it can often lead to lung infections that can cause problems to the central nervous system (the spinal cord and the brain). For example, abnormalities in ventilation and gas exchange can lead to lung infections such as hypercapnia/hypocapnia, hypoxia, and respiratory acidosis/alkalosis. These infections can lead to neurologic dysfunction that can sometimes be permanent and life changing. Innocan Pharma is an Israeli cannabis pharmaceutical company developing products of cannabinoids combined with smart delivery formulations. They provide data that meets global standards for safe cannabis-infused medication for patients suffering from illnesses negatively impacting their lungs. Innocan has partnered with Ramot, the team at Tel Aviv University led by Prof. Daniel Often, to create a revolutionary approach to treat COVID-19 by using Cannabidiol. The collaboration is set to produce CBD-Loaded Exosomes that will be administered by inhalation. These allow the potential to provide a highly synergistic effect to help the recovery of infected lung cells and reduce inflammation, since not only do exosomes contain anti-inflammatory agents, but they are also reported to repair tissue damage.
Innocan Pharma was founded in 2017 in Herzliya by Yoram Drucker (VP of Business Development) and Ron Mayron (Executive Chairman). To carry out the collaboration, Innocan Pharma has been granted $450,000 in funds. Innocan Pharma has also signed a worldwide exclusive licensing agreement with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to develop a CBD drug administered by injection based on liposomes. The company has also investigated products infused with cannabis to treat psoriasis symptoms, muscle pain, and rheumatic pain. Currently, their muscle relief gel is available to the public, while all other products are in trial phases.
Mental health manifests in different variations be it anxiety, depression, PTSD, or others. Psilocybin mushrooms have been shown to have positive effects in treating mental health disorders if they are used in the right way–in small doses. PsyRx safely administers a combination of two drugs–psilocybin and ibogaine– to help manage the symptoms of different mental disorders. They believe psychedelics are a major part of the solution for mental health and seek to improve current antidepressant treatments through micro-dosing. By using the micro-dosing method, the mushrooms do not cause a psychedelic episode, and patients can resume day-to-day tasks normally. Psilocybin is sourced from magic mushrooms and is shown to have a positive effect in treating depression, anxiety, addiction, and even PTSD. It is one of the two most used drugs in micro-dosing as small doses do not present any visual/perceptual changes. Moreover, ibogaine is the key psychoactive component of the Iboga plant. It is an anti-addiction drug and the main alkaloid of tabernanthe iboga, a shrub native to Central West Africa. While high doses include trance-like states (hallucinations, altered perception of time), low doses suppress appetites and increase feelings of euphoria. By combining the two drugs, PsyRx hopes to treat patients suffering from mental illnesses quickly and effectively within a day or two, rather than most drugs which take at least several weeks to kick in.
PsyRx was founded in 2019 by Itay Hecht (CEO), Kobi Buxdorf, PhD (CTO), and Asher Holzer, PhD (President). The rest of the team includes Noam Barnea-Ygael, Ph.D. (Research Officer), Jonathan Baram, Ph.D. (Lead Chemist), and Noam Permont (VP of Business Development, PR, and IR). PsyRx is currently going through trials at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI). PsyRx, which is located in Tel Aviv, has seven team members and ten employees.
Continuing the conversation on mental health, anxiety is one of the leading mental illnesses today, affecting over 275 million people worldwide. Anxiety for some comes in a form of heightened nervousness for short periods, which is relieved with time while for other patients it is not that simple. Often, anxiety leads to the feeling of being trapped in a whirlwind of fear and panic which causes a rapid heartbeat that for some, cannot be controlled. These episodes can be brought on spontaneously with no known reason and can last for minutes or even hours. Cannabis has been linked with positive effects on anxiety, movement disorders, and pain, and that is where StickIt Labs comes in. The Israeli startup has signed a cooperation agreement with Green Globe’s “Hempacco” to produce herb and hemp cigarettes or, “cannabis sticks' ' which is a toothpick-like sticks of cannabis components that can be inserted easily into a cigarette. This ultimately aims to reduce anxiety, safely. The patented cannabis sticks contain CBD, but no THC which means that patients can use the sticks to relieve symptoms of their anxiety without feeling the effects of being “high” and thus do not impair their daily activities. StickIt’s sticks allow for accurately measured doses of cannabis in each stick, making them easier and safer to regulate.
StickIt Labs was founded in 2019 by Dr. Asher Holtzer (President). Eli Ben Arush serves as the CEO. StickIt Labs is a small business with only four employees, however, has received $750,000 in investment funds from GGII (Green Globe International). StickIt has recently launched on the Canadian Stock Exchange at a value of $50 million. They plan on expanding into different markets in America and Mexico.