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Marijuana May Fight HIV, Study Finds

(Photo: Scott Beale)

(Photo: Scott Beale)

Researchers at Louisiana State University have shown that daily doses of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, may stop the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The researchers, led by Dr. Patricia Molina, published the findings of their potentially landmark study in the peer-reviewed journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses last week. Leaf Science reports monkeys given THC over a 17-month period showed decreased damage to the immune tissue of their guts, an important site of HIV infection.

The research team also discovered THC accomplishes this by acting at the gene level, and that while HIV spreads by infecting and then killing off immune cells, monkeys on a daily THC regimen had higher healthy cell levels.

“These findings reveal novel mechanisms that may potentially contribute to cannabinoid-mediated disease modulation,” wrote Molina. “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.”

In 2011, Dr. Molina and her colleagues conducted cannabis studies on monkeys with HIV and found that animals treated with THC had lower levels of viral infection and higher survival rates than control monkeys. Their immune cells were boosted, and they lost less weight.

“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,” wrote Molina. “If anything, it looks like there might be some beneficial immunomodulation, particularly at the early stages of infection.”

Last year, Dr. Wai Liu, an oncologist at St. George’s University of London, found that compounds derived from marijuana can kill cancer cells in people with leukemia.

“Cannabinoids have a complex action; it hits a number of important processes that cancers needs to survive,” Liu told the Huffington Post. “For that reason, it has really good potential over other drugs that only have one function.”

Scientists at San Francisco’s California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) have also conducted research suggesting compounds found in marijuana may be effective in fighting some aggressive cancers.

And in 2012, a team of US researchers published a study that found evidence that marijuana-like compounds can be effective at combating HIV in late-stage AIDS patients.

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