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Medical marijuana as protection against the H1N1 swine flu virus?

By Michael Krebs     Aug 3, 2009 in Health
As schools in the Northern Hemisphere prepare for the return of the H1N1 swine flu virus and vaccine manufacturers struggle to meet demand, one CEO has an alternative idea for protecting the most vulnerable youth.
There is widespread concern among school districts across the Northern Hemisphere - as the youth population's return to the confined spaces offered by classrooms this autumn is predicted to yield the ideal conditions for the H1N1 swine flu virus to spread. Younger demographics are particularly vulnerable, as they do not have natural antibodies to the H1N1 family of viruses - having not been exposed to earlier strains that have crossed the planet.
The inevitable reemergence of the virus in the cooler weather that it enjoys is further complicated by the likelihood that the world's vaccine producers will not have an adequate supply of vaccinations in time for the initial return of the virus. Unlike other seasonal influenza strains, the H1N1 swine flu virus has remained active throughout the warmer spring and summer months - and experts believe it will begin picking up steam as early as September.
With this backdrop in mind, one CEO has an alternative and controversial idea.
Robert Melamede, CEO of Cannabis Science, believes the answer to this crisis may be found in a medicinal throat lozenge that is manufactured from marijuana. Mr. Melamede would like to see his lozenge administered to children and to teens, and while this may seem like an outlandish idea the medical reasons behind his approach may very well be quite sound.
"The approach relies on the principle that the chemicals in marijuana known as cannabinoids have a dampening effect on the immune system," ABC News reported on Monday. "Melamede said doctors may be able to take advantage of this effect to curb the risk of death from the immune system overdrive that resulted in many of the deaths of young adults during the 1918 influenza pandemic -- a scenario that some worry could occur once more if swine flu were to become more virulent."
"Contemporary antiviral medical technology is currently inadequate to meet the world's immediate challenges," Melamede said in a press release issued last week. "We believe that cannabis extract-based medicines can reduce influenza deaths."
Marijuana has long been known to suppress the immune system - and for this reason it was considered to have negative consequences for human health. But should the immune system be confronted with a virulent flu, suppression offers a calming effect that may very well keep the infected victim alive.
When the immune system attacks a flu virus, it causes widespread inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation presents itself in runny noses, soar throats, and body aches that accompany influenza. Runaway inflammation can cause the immune system to destroy the body it was meant to protect and lead to death.
"When inflammation goes off the handle, the body releases endocannabinoids, which are natural chemicals that suppress the immune system, taking down the inflammation before it does more harm than good. This endocannabinoid system, as it's called, is one of the many systems responsible for maintaining balance and health in the body," ABC News reported.
If the endocannabinoid system cannot keep up - which often happens in very severe influenza infections - organ failure, particularly lung failure, may result.
"They die not from the virus itself but from their own immune response," Melamede told ABC News.
Cannabis Science intends to solve this threat. Marijuana contains natural, plant-based cannabinoids, called phytocannabinoids. A medical marijuana lozenge provides the body with a boost of endocannabinoids and helps to relieve the dangerous inflammation.
While viruses like the H1N1 swine flu bug are clever in their ability to mutate and outsmart even the latest vaccines, the human body's response - with regard to inflammation management - does not change. Cannabis Science may be on to something here.
Last month, the company announced that it is seeking FDA approval for its flu-fighting lozenges.
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