A cure for Ebola…from the “evil” tobacco plant

Once in a while it’s good that the government is so incompetent. If some bureaucratic careerists had had their way, they would have eradicated every tobacco plant in the world, pulling them up root, stock, and branch. (As a side note, the word “eradicate” comes from the Latin word radix, or root—meaning to uproot something, which is, in fact, the only way to deal with government bureaucrats.)

But completely eradicating tobacco would have been a real health problem. Because, as it turns out, this poor, maligned plant harbors our only known cure for the dreaded Ebola virus.

(Of course, another kind of government incompetence—coupled with political correctness—is largely responsible for allowing this deadly virus within the borders of the U.S. in the first place, but that’s a subject for another day.)

ZMapp, the experimental drug used to treat the American medical missionaries who contracted Ebola in Liberia in October, was actually produced from tobacco plants—in facilities owned by the notorious R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

Although ZMapp hasn’t been approved yet in the U.S. for use in humans, it appears to have cured the missionaries of Ebola. And a study published in October showed that it also cured 100 percent of the Ebola-infected monkeys who were given the drug.1

ZMapp is produced through pharming—a little-known manufacturing process used to grow plants for drugs. Tobacco plants used in pharming are not genetically modified. They are grown in closed, indoor facilities, often using hydroponics. Tobacco is the ideal plant for this process because it’s easy to extract its active components, it’s fast growing, and it’s well understood botanically.

In fact, scientists have been studying tobacco ever since French and Spanish explorers discovered the plants in the Americas in the 1500s. The explorers found that tobacco was highly prized by American indigenous people for its medicinal properties. Native Americans smoked natural whole leaf tobacco for its relaxing effects (inducing the “peace” of the proverbial peace pipe), and used the rolled leaves as suppositories to treat gastrointestinal ailments.

Tobacco’s active ingredient, nicotine, was named after Jean Nicot, a 16th century botanist at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Scientists subsequently found that there are nicotine receptors throughout the human body. Today, numerous studies show that nicotine can help prevent the development of Parkinson’s disease and  effectively treat its symptoms. Nicotine also counteracts the crippling neurologic side effects of many psychiatric drugs.

And now, it may hold the only key for Ebola eradication. Which just goes to show how mindless, unscientific, and superstitious it is to try to label any plant as “bad.”

1Qui X, et al. Reversion of advanced Ebola virus disease in nonhuman primates with ZMapp. Nature 514, 47–53 (02 October 2014) doi:10.1038/nature13777