People with HIV (and other conditions) have used prescription marijuana to treat the side effects of medication, but a new study published in the journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, recently showed that daily doses of may even help combat the disease. According to Leaf Science, the study by Louisiana State University researchers showed that THC (a main component of marijuana) given to monkeys over a 17-month period decreased damage to immune tissue of the gut — an important site of HIV infection — by acting at the gene level.
“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,” said the lead author of the study, Dr. Patricia Molina.
Leaf Science reports that while HIV normally spreads by infecting and ultimately killing immune cells, researchers "observed higher levels of healthy immune cells in animals that received THC – something they noticed in a previous study as well."
In 2011, Molina and her team discovered that HIV-positive monkeys monkeys treated with THC had lower levels of viral infection, higher numbers of immune cells, better survival rates, and less weight loss.
The results of the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, were unexpected.
“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," she told Leaf. "If anything, it looks like there might be some beneficial immunomodulation, particularly at the early stages of infection.”
The next stop, she says, will be to try to understand why marijuana might help stop the spread of HIV so that treatments can be developed that are more specific to how THC works.