MAHOPAC, N.Y. - When Nagi Wissa, pharmacist and owner of Lake Mahopac Pharmacy, heard Gov. Cuomo ask citizens to be creative and come up with ideas to help combat the spread of the coronavirus, he took it seriously. 

“The governor asked all businesses if they could contribute to a solution,” Wissa said, so the pharmacist began researching potential treatments. 

“There is a lot on the news right now about drugs such as azithromycin, the Z-Pak, hydroxychloroquine—they are all being looked at,” he said. “But I am well-read on herbal remedies and products, and what caught my attention is the herb, lobelia. It’s an American plant and it dates back to the Native Americans—they used to smoke it. This plant can assist with breathing. What we found out is one of the major things people suffer from related to the coronavirus is not being able to breathe—respiratory issues.” 

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Lobelia is a respiratory stimulant and anti-asthmatic. 

“It is proven and used already for bronchial asthma,” Wissa said. “But what struck me, even more, is that it can be an injection. It’s used for newborns who needed to be resuscitated at birth.  They were injected with lobeline hydrochloride. It can almost be used as a phytochemical respirator [in light of] the shortage of mechanical ones.  

“It does have a therapeutic treatment that could help,” he continued. “It can be used for coughs, for inflammation and for shortness of breath. It could be a good product in helping the treatment of the coronavirus epidemic.”  

Wissa said the herbal remedy is available over the counter and can be found online at places such as Amazon. However, he said, those formulas are not necessarily what would be used in a COVID-19 treatment. It would likely need a new formula with specified doses. 

“You can get it in raw material,” he said. “So, I do ask the CDC and the FDA to look further into this plant. It will require research. But as a pharmacist and health professional, I wanted to do my part. I would like to take this to the governor and to the White House.” 

If lobelia is reconfigured as a COVID-19 treatment, Wissa said, it would likely be as a pill or an injection. 

“It’s already a proven product, I just stumbled upon it,” he said. “I have read so much about herbal remedies. The people in this town have known me for 12 years and know that I am a traditional pharmacist, but I also specialize in herbal and homeopathic remedies. This is something I think is essential in the treatment of respiratory failure.”

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