New Study Says Marijuana May Help Stop the Spread of HIV
BATON ROUGE -- A new study by researchers at Louisiana State University has shown that THC (a main component of marijuana) given to monkeys over a 17-month clinical trial period decreased damage to immune tissue of the gut — an important site of HIV infection — by acting at the gene level. The study was published last week in the journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses.
“It adds to the picture and it builds a little bit more information around the potential mechanisms that might be playing a role in the modulation of the infection,” says Dr. Patricia Molina, head of LSU’s Department of Physiology and lead author of the study.
Persons suffering with HIV along with several types of cancer and diseases have long treated the side effects of medications used to combat those health issues with prescription marijuana. This study instead examines marijuana as part of a potential medical treatment in assisting to negate the spread of HIV.
HIV spreads by infecting and ultimately killing immune cells, however, in 2011, Dr. Molina and her colleagues found that monkeys treated with THC had lower levels of viral infection and better survival rates. The research team observed higher levels of healthy immune cells in animals that received THC and less weight loss from the disease.
“When we started the study, we thought it was going to increase viral load, we thought it was going to decrease lymphocyte counts much more dramatically, and we did not see that. If anything, it looks like there might be some beneficial immunomodulation, particularly at the early stages of infection,” Dr. Molina noted.
The results of the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, were unexpected.
There are those in the medical research community whom are not enthusiastic in an endorsement of the use of marijuana in HIV/AIDS patients, since marijuana compounds are known to inhibit activity of the immune system. But studies have shown that THC does not have a detrimental effect on viral load or immune cells.
Dr. Molina said that researchers are now trying to understand why marijuana might help stop the spread of HIV and develop new treatments that are more specific to to how THC works.