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Marijuana Might Stop the Spread of HIV

In a new study on monkeys found THC lower infection levels, healthier immune cells and better survival rates.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Atomazul


Marijuana may be able to slow immune tissue damage in HIV patients, a new study has found. Doctors can already recommend cannabis to HIV and AIDS patients in medical marijuana states to combat nausea, weight loss and pain, and there is a pharmaceutical THC derivative available to patients in all states. Now evidence from this and previous studies suggests that marijuana could actually be effective in combating the underlying disease.

Monkeys infected with an HIV-like virus were better able to combat the disease if they received THC every day,  according to research from Louisiana State University published in health journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses.

The study measured immune tissues in the stomachs of Rhesus monkeys and found that those given the pot-derivative over a period of 18 months maintained healthier cells than those who were denied the THC treatment.

"These findings reveal novel mechanisms that may potentially contribute to cannabinoid-mediated disease modulation," wrote Dr. Patricia Molina, the study's lead author. “It adds to the picture and it builds a little bit more information.”

study published by Dr. Molina and her team in 2011 showed that monkeys with the animal form of HIV that were dosed with THC had lower infection levels, healthier immune cells, less weight loss and better survival rates overall. And a 2012 study by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that cannabinoid receptors on immune cells can  inhibit the spread of HIV when they are stimulated by marijuana-like compounds.

More research could show exactly how THC acts on the immune cells and how to best exploit its effectiveness, especially by exclusively targeting a cannabinoid receptor called CB2 which could potentially allow the drug to work its magic without getting the patient high.

“There’s quite a bit of interest in trying to understand whether what we see as a immunomodulatory effect is mediated exclusively by the CB2 receptor,” Dr. Molina  said to Leaf Science. “And if so, could that potentially lead to the development of agonists specific to the receptor that could have the same beneficial effects.”

Although the DEA still considers marijuana a Schedule I drug with “no medical benefit,” the latest research only adds to the growing body of evidence of how therapeutic cannabis can be. On top of treating symptoms,  several recent studies have also shown that marijuana can slow or stop the spread of various types of cancer, and could also be effective at  helping break addictions to stronger drugs like heroin and painkillers.


Aaron Kase is a freelance writer and a reporter for Lawyers.com. Follow him on Twitter at@Aaron_Kase.
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