Emetine is not ipecac: Considerations for its use as treatment for sars‐cov2

Martin D. Bleasel, Gregory M. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
47 Downloads (Pure)


Emetine is a potent antiviral that acts on many viruses in the low‐nM range, with several studies in animals and humans demonstrating antiviral activity. Historically, emetine was used to treat patients with Spanish influenza, in the last stages of the pandemic in the early 1900s. Some of these patients were “black” with cyanosis. Emetine rapidly reversed the cyanosis and other symptoms of this disease in 12–24 h. However, emetine also has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and it appears it is these anti‐inflammatory properties that were responsible for the effects seen in patients with Spanish influenza. Emetine, in the past, has also been used in 10s to 100s of millions of people at a dose of ~60 mg daily to treat amoebiasis. Based on viral inhibition data we can calculate a likely SARS‐CoV2 antiviral dose of ~1/10th the amoebiasis dose, which should dramatically reduce the risk of any side effects. While there are no anti-inflammatory dose response data available, based on the potential mode of action, the anti-inflammatory actions may also occur at low doses. This paper also examines the toxicity of emetine seen in clinical practice and that seen in the laboratory, and discusses the methods of administration aimed at reducing side effects if higher doses were found to be necessary. While emetine is a “pure drug” as it is extracted from ipecac, some of the differences between emetine and ipecac are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number428
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


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