A major breakthrough has occurred in the decades-long fight against HIV/AIDS and it has to do with (you guessed it) cannabis. It seems like each week (sometimes daily), cannabis is being linked to the successful treatment of some ailment. Last week was no different, as a new study published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (JAIDS), found that THC might be able to prevent HIV from becoming full-blown AIDS.
HIV.gov reports that “More than 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV today, and 1 in 7 of them don’t know it.” The rate of new HIV cases has declined by nearly 20 percent in the past nine years, and technology has advanced in its management of the disease.
However, places like South Africa are still suffering from a massive HIV and AIDS epidemic with an estimated 7 million people still living with HIV and 180,000 AIDS-related deaths in 2015.
Currently, Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is used to treat HIV infection by preventing its multiplication and spread throughout the body. HIV dampens the immune system, making it much simpler for the body to develop leukemia, cancer, pneumonia, liver failure and other life-threatening conditions.
While ART has been effective for patients, HIV treatment requires taking a regimen of pills and costs are steep, particularly for those in poor countries. The results of the JAIDS study offer a groundbreaking approach to tackling this epidemic and preventing deaths across the board. The report states:
Patients with HIV in the United States routinely use cannabinoid-based therapies to combat the side effects of HIV infection and antiretroviral therapy. However, cannabinoids, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), are well-characterized immunosuppressants.
These results suggest that THC can suppress pDC (Plasmacytoid dendritic cell) function during the early host antiviral response by dampening pDC activation.
To clarify the role of Plasmacytoid dendritic cell function in HIV, the report states,
A consequence of Human Immunodeficiency Virus-1 (HIV) infection is a decrease in both pDC number and function, but prolonged pDC activity has been linked with progression from HIV infection to the development of AIDS.
In other words, HIV users who use cannabis are likely to have prevented their condition from worsening. This is due to the fact that pDC’s are immune cells that circulate in the blood.
Once HIV is acquired, these cells do not respond as well to fighting foreign pathogens. THC suppresses the functionality of the compromised immune system brought on by HIV, which can halt its progression into AIDS.
This is great news for the medical marijuana community as well as HIV patients; many of whom are already using cannabis to alleviate nausea, pain, the loss of appetite and other side effects. Patients may not only reap the therapeutic benefits of cannabis but it can also prolong or save their lives.
Given this new development, medical marijuana supporters will most likely begin to advocate for its use as a life-saving treatment in the fight against AIDS. One can only hope that the new research will make its way across international borders as well.