Marijuana-like chemical helps relieve coughs-study

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The420Guy

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By Patricia Reaney

LONDON, Nov 1 (Reuters) - A team of international scientists have discovered why marijuana causes coughing in some asthma patients but not in others in a finding that could lead to better respiratory treatments with fewer side effects.

In a report in the science journal Nature on Wednesday, researchers from Italy, Hungary and the United States identified a cannabis-like chemical in the body called anandamide and showed how it influences the airways in the lungs.

In animal studies, anandamide, which is similar to active ingredients in marijuana called cannabinoids, inhibits coughing caused by an irritant when the muscles in the lungs are tensed, but if the airways are relaxed it can cause a coughing spasm.

A cannabinoid receptor molecule, a chemical doorway into the cell, found on nerve endings in the lungs seems to control both reactions.

"We think that by targeting cannabinoid receptors in the upper airways we can control coughs in a number of conditions," Daniele Piomelli, a pharmacologist at the University of California, Irvine, said in a telephone interview.

"That's important because most treatments currently available basically act on the brain cough centre, a small region of the brain that is the target for codeine and similar drugs."

HIGHS AND LOWS

New treatments targeting the receptor molecule would be an alternative to codeine and other opiates, which produce serious side effects including addiction.

In an inhaler form, a treatment would act directly on the lungs, thereby eliminating many of the unwanted side effects of codeine and similar drugs.

Piomelli and scientists from The Institute of Experimental Medicine in Budapest, the University of Naples in Italy and the University of Washington in Seattle, who contributed to the research, hope to begin human tests soon.

"Hopefully we will be doing that in the not-too-far future," Piomelli said.

If the research goes well and produces the same results as the animal studies, the scientists hope new treatments for coughs caused by asthma and other respiratory illnesses could be available in a few years.

"We're very excited about the possibilities and would like to push it forward," he said.

MARIJUANA-BASED DRUGS FOR A VARIETY OF AILMENTS

Scientists have been studying marijuana with the idea of developing new treatments for a variety of conditions ranging from asthma and stroke to cancer and spinal cord injuries and nerve damage.

Medical studies have shown that it is useful for pain relief, to control nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy treatment and to reduce anxiety.

"We tried to understand the cannabis-like system in the body because we think it is a source for many different potential medicines. But in order for us to develop these medicines, we need to understand how the physiology works," said Piomelli.