Marijuana can protect people from the damaging effects of HIV as well as slowing the progression of the disease, experts have claimed.
Published in the peer-reviewed journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, a team from the Louisiana State University Health Science Centre in New Orleans claim the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, THC, can protect immune tissue in the gut from the damaging effects of HIV.
Researchers used Rhesus monkeys aged between four and six infected with SIV (the monkey equivalent of HIV). The disease was monitored through the study and findings showed SIV infection showed a significant drop in the monkey's viral load and tissue inflammation after the administration of THC.
Researchers found THC led to the greaters survival of T cell populations and reduced overall cell death in the gut – a breeding ground for the HIV infection.
"These immunomodulatory effects of chronic THC administration were associated with significant differences in duodenal tissue gene expression, which by gene ontology analysis strongly suggests an overall antiapoptotic and, possibly, proliferative or regenerative effect on the gut tissues," the authors conclude.
"These findings suggest that local gut mechanisms may contribute to chronic THC modulation of SIV disease progression.
"While these results do not directly support a role for cannabinoid modulation of intestinal barrier integrity, the implication of cannabinoids as modulators of barrier function, particularly as it pertains to the blood–brain barrier, warrants further investigation.
"Our results suggest that gut immunomodulation through changes in gene expression, cytokine profiles, and immune cell populations could potentially contribute to chronic THC modulation of SIV disease progression. Moreover, they reveal novel mechanisms that may potentially contribute to decreased morbidity and mortality."
Thomas Hope, editor of the journal and professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, said to treat HIV, a better understanding of the Aids and alternative approaches to treatment are required.
"This study is important because it begins to explain how THC can influence disease progression in SIV-infected macaques. It also reveals a new way to slow disease progression."