As many as half of those suffering from HIV could prevent the mental decline associated with the disease with the help of cannabis, according to a new study.
Researchers from Michigan State University found that marijuana users with HIV have fewer inflammatory white blood cells. As the immune system continuously tries to fight the virus, inflammation in the brain occurs in many HIV patients. However, the study’s authors report that those who use marijuana note levels of inflammatory cells that are more in keeping with those of healthy individuals who do not have the infection. This means that marijuana could help HIV patients to hold on to their cognitive function for a longer time.
It is estimated that one out of every seven of the 1.1 million people infected with HIV in America is not aware that they are carrying the virus. In Europe, meanwhile, experts report infections with the virus are growing at an “alarming” rate, with 160,000 people contracting HIV across 53 European countries in 2016 alone, according to the World Health Organization. This is a 52 percent rise from 2007’s figures.
For their study, the scientists looked at blood samples taken from 40 patients with HIV. Some of the participants were cannabis users, while others were not. After isolating inflammatory white blood cells from the samples, the researchers assessed the effect of the THC in the marijuana on the cells. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is responsible for the drug’s hallucinogenic effect.
The study’s lead author, Professor Norbert Kaminski, remarked, “The patients who didn’t smoke marijuana had a very high level of inflammatory cells compared to those who did use.”
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The researchers believe that the compounds in the marijuana serve as anti-inflammatory agents that reduce the inflammatory white blood cell count and the proteins that they release in a person’s body.
Similar effect could be seen in patients with other types of illnesses
Scientists are hopeful that the findings, which were published in the AIDS journal, could help treat other conditions where inflammation is seen in the brain, such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia.
Kaminski is the director of the Institute for Integrative Toxicology at MSU, and he has been studying marijuana’s effects on the immune system for nearly 20 years. His laboratory was the first to identify proteins that bind to the compounds of marijuana on immune cell surfaces, and this study showed precisely how those compounds impact the immune system.
Further studies on marijuana’s effects on HIV planned
In Florida, which is the state with the highest new HIV infection rate per year in the nation, a new study has just been given a $3.2 million National Institute on Drug Abuse grant to look into the health effects of marijuana on HIV. The study is believed to be the biggest one to date on this subject, and will be carried out by the University of Florida. Participants are being chosen right now, with 400 HIV patients who use marijuana either recreationally or medically and 100 HIV patients who are not marijuana users expected to be followed over the course of five years.
In the upcoming study, the researchers plan to track the frequency of marijuana use, quantity, consumption methods and cannabinoid content to uncover patterns in the way in which the virus is expressed in people’s bodies and how it affects their symptom management. It is estimated that 30 percent of Floridians with HIV use some form of marijuana to manage symptoms such as sleep problems, nausea, stress, anxiety and pain. Nearly 70 percent of those who use it for these purposes report receiving health benefits.