Medical cannabis startup finds way to get full weed benefits, without the smoke

Company says it uses process that preserves all properties from the plant that are otherwise lost in extraction

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative image of someone smoking cannabis. (Tunatura; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of someone smoking cannabis. (Tunatura; iStock by Getty Images)

Smoking the cannabis leaf, users get the full spectrum of its properties — the flavor and the variety of cannabinoids that are present in the weed.

Also, when smoking, the impact goes straight to the brain.

But when extracting the components of the weed to make cannabis-based products including oils, creams, food and drinks, some of these properties are lost, through the commonly used alcohol or CO₂-based extraction processes.

Medical cannabis startup Curo seeks to undo this loss.

The Omer, Israel-based firm has developed a new method, using an algorithmic extraction process that manipulates temperature, that is able to extract all the cannabinoids, terpenes (a large class of organic compounds), and water-based materials that are in the plant. These provide the full range of properties, exactly like when the weed is smoked.

Prof. Zvi Bentwich, left, and Meir Alboher of Curo, a medical cannabis startup (Itay Barnea)

“Our novel extraction and exploitation method makes optimal use of the plant,” said Prof. Zvi Bentwich, the co-founder and chairman of Curo, in an interview.

“We are able to take all the ingredients of what you get while smoking, all, and create a product that can be ingested in a pill or as a strip under the tongue. Because of the new extraction method, the elements that are active in the weed get absorbed straight into the brain, without going via the digestive system. This gives the patients the full equivalent of smoking,” but without the smoke.

The new formulation, he said, “better reflects the combined effects of the weed,” and that is what has “huge potential.”

The method enables physicians to decide whether to utilize weed extract with the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) component, which gives users the “high,” or without. In many medical indications some degree of THC is required.

Bentwich worked on the project with Dr. Joseph Maloul, a mathematician who has worked for many years in the field of cosmetics, specializing in the extraction of beneficial properties from plants.

Samples of the cannabis product strips created by startup Curo (Courtesy)

Bentwich was the first physician who dealt with AIDS patients in Israel in the late 80s and 90s,  and already then had recommended that his patients use cannabis for its beneficial properties, especially in overcoming nausea and weight loss, he said. “The first patient that got an official license to use cannabis in Israel was my AIDS patient at the Kaplan hospital,” he said. The Kaplan Medical Center is a hospital in the city of Rehovot.

An immunologist by profession, Bentwich was also the chief scientist for Tikkun Olam Ltd., a medical cannabis grower, from 2012 to 2018.

Curo Medical is now planning to embark on a series of clinical trials to prove the efficacy of its product on alleviating such conditions as glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease, and sleep insomnia.

“We need to prove its potential,” said Bentwich.

To raise money for the trials, the three-year old firm is planning to hold an initial public offering of shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange sometime next year, said Meir Alboher, the chief executive of Curo. The firm has raised some $2 million to date from angel investors for its activities, but is seeking to raise more funds for the trials and to start licensing the extraction method to medical cannabis producers in the US and Europe.

“If our preliminary studies are accurate, then we will have revolutionized the world of cannabis,” Alboher said. He said the new cannabis formulation has the potential of becoming the next Viagra, the medication used to treat erectile dysfunction, or the next contraceptive pill.

“We want future medical cannabis products produced with our method to be identified as such,” he said. “Just as computers get sold with the ‘Intel inside’ label.”

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