While it is necessary for fighting off the virus, this overwhelming inflammation can start to kill your own cells and, if it gets out of hand, it can lead to organ failure and 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.
In more severe strains of the flu, like avian flu, the endocannabinoid system can't always keep up. When this happens, the organs, particularly the lungs, fail.
"They die not from the virus itself but from their own immune response," Melamede said.
This is where, according to Cannabis Science, marijuana comes in. Because the marijuana plant contains natural, plant-based cannabinoids, called phytocannabinoids, giving cannabis to someone with the flu supplements their body's endocannabinoid system and helps take down the inflammation.
But could it work for swine flu? Though the current and ex-CEO might not meet eye to eye on many things right now, both feel that the potential for using marijuana for serious strains of the flu, like H1N1, is enormous.
"It's such a changeable virus that vaccines might not work," Kubby said. "But changing the way our bodies respond to the virus [with cannabis] does work."
While marijuana's anti-inflammatory properties are widely accepted as a treatment for glaucoma or arthritis, its use as an antiviral raises eyebrows even among pot-friendly physicians.
"Though it may have some antiviral effects, these have not been proven scientifically," says Dr. David Allen, a chest surgeon and cannabinoid research scientist from California.
Even if suppressing the immune system were the key to fighting off the ravages of swine flu, Horovitz points out, "there are many other immune modulators already on the market that are not derived from illegal substances."
Dr. Peter Katona, a member of the FDA's advisory committee on new antibiotics, shares the apprehension, saying, "I must be skeptical until there is more data".
And given that parents, not to mention the federal government's war on drugs, are trying to get kids to "just say no" to marijuana, Melamede's company will face an uphill climb. Though Kubby noted that the lozenge is a special formulation that acts differently in the body than inhaled marijuana, to get the FDA on board with giving an illicit substance to kids, Cannabis Science will need to put forth a pretty compelling case for the drug's potential.
Though it's still early in the development of this potential drug, since Steve Kubby left the company two weeks ago, Cannabis Science has gone into marketing overdrive, publicizing its "talks" with the FDA and broadcasting the company as a hope for the shaky future of the swine flu pandemic.
Mary Ruwart, who recently left the company along with Kubby, thinks that Cannabis Science might be putting the cart before the horse. The preliminary studies required to apply for FDA clinical trials take months to complete, she said, and "since these studies were not even on the drawing board when I left three weeks ago, they cannot have been completed."