The Israeli newspaper Maariv reported October 11 that the US Army had registered a patent on a substance that blocks brain damage from nerve gases such as Sarin, Soman, and Tabun. The substance, HU-211, is also known as dexabinol, described by the Israeli Green Leaf Party (http://www.ale-yarok.org.il), a marijuana reform group based in Tel Aviv, as a "mirror for THC except for psychoactive effect."
Dexabinol, a THC analogue, was developed by Prof. Rafael Meshoulam at the School of Pharmacology in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and an Israeli company, Pharmos Ltd., holds an exclusive worldwide license on the substance. (A patent fight with the US Army is now underway.) According to Maariv, in an experiment conducted by the US Army, HU-211 was found to reduce brain damage caused by convulsions brought on by nerve gas exposure. In rats injected five minutes after exposure, damage was reduced by 86%, and even in rats injected 40 minutes after exposure, damage was reduced by 81%.
Upon seeing the Maariv report and interviewing Meshoulam, whom Green Leaf said conceded that smoked marijuana could have similar effects, the group has formally requested that the Israeli Defense Forces and Health Ministry investigate whether the same results could be achieved by smoking marijuana. In a press release last week, the group announced that it had taken initial steps to get research underway in Europe.
The idea is not so far-fetched as it might appear, according to US cannabis researcher Dr. Ethan Russo. "Dexabinol is an analogue of THC. It is not psychoactive, but it is neuroprotective," he told DRCNet. "All of dexabinol's mechanisms are shared with THC; everything that dexabinol does, THC does -- and more. If dexabinol helps reduce brain damage -- not just from nerve gas, but with stroke and head injuries -- there is no reason to believe that THC does not do the same thing. But no one has done the research."
That will change if Green Leaf has its way. Party chairman Boaz Wachtel has received the necessary approvals for European researchers to test the effect of Soman nerve gas on rats exposed to marijuana smoke and the test will begin within "a few weeks," Maariv reported. "Cannabinoids (including marijuana) succeed in protecting from the irreversible damage caused by Soman exposure, thus shielding form the toxic effect without any side effects except for psychoactive ones: a sense of elation and spiritual release for a short time," Wachtel wrote in the research proposal.
Protection from chemical warfare attacks is on the minds of Israeli citizens as they anticipate the repercussions from a possible US attack on Iraq. According to some nightmare scenarios, if Iraq possesses chemical weapons, if it possesses the means to deliver them to Israel, if the US attempts to overthrow the Iraqi government, and if Saddam Hussein feels like the end is near, then Iraq could, in a last spasm of vengeance, send missiles with nerve gas warheads plummeting into Israeli cities.
"It appears that the establishment would prefer people sober and dead rather than high and alive," Wachtel said. "There appears to be a scientific base for the assumption that smoked marijuana can enhance survival, reduce brain damage and prevent nausea and vomiting as a result of nerve gas exposure. We hope to have results from new research before the upcoming war so as to provide Israeli citizens with maximum protection from nerve gas using marijuana."
"Considering that Iraq could well drop bombs or missiles on Israel, doing this research would be prudent," said Russo.
(Visit the National Institutes of Health's Medline at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi and type in "HU-211" and "Soman" to view the latest research on dexabinol's effect on nerve gas damage.)