Dear Nurse Susan,

I have had this freaking cold/flu of almost 6 weeks and I still feel worn out. I have tried every product on the market. I even did the flu shot for a few consecutive years but always got the flu anyway. Can cannabis help?

Can’t stop coughing.

Dear Can’t Stop Coughing,

This year’s flu season has been a beast. It has caused a shortage of flu medications and packed emergency rooms. Symptoms of the flu include sudden onset of fever, body aches, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, headache, fatigue, and non-productive (no phlegm/sputum) cough. According to the CDC, 114 children have died so far from this season’s flu outbreak. The flu can sometimes weaken the lungs and people can die of a secondary infection, usually bacterial, that causes pneumonia which is the worst complication of the flu. If you have any of these symptoms, go immediately to the nearest Emergency Department:

  • Any kind of breathing problem, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, severe coughing, etc.
  • Signs of a lack of oxygen, including blue coloration/shading around mouth and fingernail beds, dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion.
  • Chest pain, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting.

So, what do we know about cannabis, and how does that relate to the flu? It is well-known that cannabis compounds (aka cannabinoids, terpenoids and flavonoids) have anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, pain relieving, immunomodulation, and anti-viral/bacterial/fungal actions.

  • Anti-oxidative: An antioxidant inhibits the production of free radicals that can lead to cell damage, thereby protecting the brain and body from the harmful effects of free radicals. According to the US Patent US6630507B1, assigned to the US Department of Health and Human Services, “Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This newfound property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.” Thus, cannabis protects our healthy cells and prevents diseases. I use cannabis (high CBD, low THC) daily to manage my neurological movement disorder, and I believe I am gaining prophylactic benefits which have resulted in fewer, shorter, and less severe episodes of the flu. I especially like spraying a 1:1 CBD:THC tincture on my sore throat for almost immediate relief from pain and swelling. Here is the link to the patent: https://patents.google.com/patent/US6630507
  • Anti-inflammatory: Inflammation is the body’s immune system response to injury, infection, and tissue injury. This is a protective process, but the results are pain, swelling, joint stiffness, redness and heat. When the inflammation is chronic, it can lead to diseases such as cancer, arthritis, bowel disease etc. With the flu, inflammation is associated with general flu-like symptoms including fever, headaches, body aches, chills, and fatigue. Inflammation in the lungs can cause shortness of breath. Thus, cannabis may relieve your flu symptoms. I can obtain long-lasting, daytime relief by using a microdose (2.5mg – 5mg) of a 1:1 CBD:THC edible with virtually no psychoactivity. At night, a little THC helps me get the rest I need without the negative side effects from products like Nyquil that contain alcohol (known to damage the liver), Tylenol (known to damage the liver), and Benadryl (known to cause thick bronchial sputum).
  • Neuroprotective: Protects nerves against damage due to injury or disease, which can inhibit brain function. Nerves die from several processes, some of which are oxidative stress (see above, anti-oxidative), and inflammation (see above). This does not directly relate to the flu, but in my situation with a neurological disorder, neuroprotection and slowing down the progression of my condition, is one of my top priorities. Any physical stress, including illness, exacerbates my tremor and adds another layer of unpleasantness to the underlying illness.
  • Pain-relieving: This is self-explanatory. The flu can be painful due to a sore throat, body aches, headaches etc, which can lead to sleep disturbances which can weaken our body and intensify the flu symptoms.
  • Immunomodulation: Immune system modulation means increasing (up-regulating) or decreasing (down-regulating) immune system activity. Immune cells express cannabinoid receptors and therefore, the cannabinoids in cannabis can modulate the immune system. For example, in auto-immune diseases, the immune system is overactive, attacking our tissues as if they were foreign invaders. Cannabis down-regulates the system, so it decreases the immune system activity and prevents tissue destruction. According to scientists, developments involving the cannabinoid system and immune regulation suggest that this system will be exploited for treatment of chronic diseases and immune deficiencies.
  • Anti-viral: Influenza is a virus and requires treatment with an anti-viral; it cannot be eradicated using antibiotics. Pneumonia, sometimes a complication of the flu, can be bacterial and is therefore treated with antibiotics. According to researchers, CBD, CBG, and CBC are cannabinoids in the cannabis plant that possess anti-viral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of human research into the anti-microbial effects of cannabis. In the lab however, these cannabinoids showed “exceptional antibacterial activity against drug resistant “super bugs” like MRSA. I routinely ingest a raw cannabis smoothie, using fresh cannabis plant material, to get all those cannabinoids without the psychoactivity.

So, Can’t Stop Coughing, you can use cannabis prophylactically to support your immune system and prevent free radicals, during illness to relieve your symptoms and inflammation, and as an ongoing nutritional super-food. Get well soon!

Nurse Susan