Study: Cannabis May Fight HIV

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Study: Cannabis May Fight HIV

A new research paper has found that cannabis could potentially be a treatment for HIV/AIDS, helping to minimise the damage of the disease on the immune system.

Pills containing cannabis have long been used as a prescription medicine by those suffering from HIV. Cannabis was primarily used as an appetite stimulant that reduces weight loss associated with the disease. New research, published in the journal AIDS Research and Human Retrovirus has found its use may go further - having beneficial effects on animals suffering from the infection.

What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Though thought to be very similar to other, less deadly viruses (like the common cold), HIV has one very distinct difference to its cousins. This difference is that whilst the human immune system can clear up and eradicate most viruses, it cannot fight off the nature of HIV. Unlike other viruses, HIV directly attacks white blood cells (the cells that kill infections), and uses them to replicate. This results in the gradual decline and destruction of the immune system, leaving suffers of HIV open to other opportunistic diseases that would otherwise have been fought off. To make matters worse, the HIV virus is one of the fastest evolving organisms known to man – making it extremely hard to control.

What is AIDS?

When a sufferer of HIV has had their immune system all but destroyed they are medically considered to have Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS for short. AIDS is considered to be the final stage of the HIV infection, causing the immune system to be so damaged that opportunistic infections become life threatening, and often result in the patient’s death.

THC bolsters immune system cells

The research in question has found that HIV infected monkeys who were given THC over a 17-month period showed signs of decreased damage to the immune system tissue in the gut – a prominent area of damage for the HIV infection. It was also found that this beneficial effect was being orchestrated on a gene level, shedding a little bit light on unknown mechanisms that play a role in the infection.

A surprisingly positive outcome

This current research was conducted to further explore the positive results from previous experiments performed by the same team. In 2011, Dr. Molina of Louisiana State University found that HIV infected monkeys treated with HIV had better survival rates, had increased levels of immune system cells, and suffered less weight loss. It was a completely unexpected and pleasant outcome. Dr. Molina described the findings as such:

“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. I think that there’s a lot of interest in trying to understand the specific receptor-mediated events that result from marijuana. And particularly, to focus on the CB2 receptor.”

Traditionally, it was always thought that the compounds of marijuana inhibited the immune system, so cannabis was never really thought of as a possible treatment for HIV sufferers. It is only with the recent dispelling of marijuana myths that scientist have begun to question the facts. As more research suggests that the endocannabinoid system can benefit the immune system, it only seems logical for scientists researching HIV to explore how the activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors (the receptors in the body activated by cannabis) interact with the infection.

What this means is that we could soon see clinical trials involving cannabis for HIV sufferers. There is still a long way to go, and many other institutions and scientist will want to run their own research into the matter before it moves on – but results are very encouraging so far. Science has only just scratched the surface of the true nature of cannabis, and new and exciting potential applications are being discovered all of the time!