Add oleandrin to bleach and hydroxychloroquine on the list of quack remedies promoted by President Donald Trump to prevent or cure Covid-19. Oleandrin is an extract of the Nerium oleander plant. And while there’s no evidence it has any beneficial effects against Covid-19, there’s ample evidence that it’s dangerous. Oleandrin is the poisonous substance in the plant.
“Consumption of only one Nerium oleander leaf may be fatal,” the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center states on its website. The North Carolina University Cooperative Extension puts its warning in all-caps: “ALL PARTS OF THIS PLANT ARE HIGHLY TOXIC AND MAY BE FATAL.”
The MyPillow guy, Mike Lindell, put the oleandrin bug in Trump’s ear during a July meeting, according to a detailed investigative article by Jonathan Swan in Axios. Lindell is said to be a close friend of Trump; he also has a stake in Phoenix Biotechnology, the company pushing oleandrin as a Covid-19 treatment, Swan reports.
Myths often spring from some grain of plausibility. There’s evidence that oleandrin might inhibit growth of cancer cells, but that hasn’t been studied in humans. A preprint paper from July, not peer-reviewed, claims oleandrin “exhibited potent antiviral activity” against the coronavirus in a test tube. That says nothing about whether it could prevent or treat Covid-19, nor if it’s safe. One of the paper’s authors is on Phoenix Biotechnology’s advisory board, Swan writes.
“There is no published scientific evidence on the safety of consuming oleandrin,” writes Cassandra Quave, PhD, a professor at Emory University who studies medicinal plants. “It is critical that the Food and Drug Administration and its commissioner, Dr. Stephen Hahn, make certain the public is protected from this poison.”