Recently, a Doctor came out against using Cannabis for the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Among oncologists, his opinion is probably in the minority. This Doctor claims that no HIV patients he knows, would benefit from Cannabis. Unfortunately, the Doctor only discussed his opinion and did not site any current research from controlled studies to support his stance. Current research in HIV/AIDS and cannabinoids has been promising– practically every clinical trial that has looked at HIV/AIDS and THC has shown that cannabinoids may help patients.
Some of the first patients that were infected with HIV were treated at San Francisco General Hospital. It was probably there, that the medical staff first noticed patients who used Cannabis seemed to be doing better. Notably, cannabis became known as an effective treatment for HIV/AIDS wasting syndrome. Among the medical staff, was Dr. Donald Abrams who recorded his observations and would later go on to conduct some of the most important clinical trials in the history of cannabinoid research. Dr. Abrams demonstrated that smoked Cannabis could effectively alleviate neuropathic pain in HIV/AIDS patients. Videos of Dr.Abrams presenting his results can be viewed here: Cannabis & Neuropathic Pain, Dr. Abrams, pt 1 and Cannabis & Neuropathic Pain, Dr. Abrams, pt 2
Later, other researchers would show, in a similar group of HIV patients, that smoked Cannabis can modulate pain where conventional opiates were ineffective. The beneficial effect of cannabis on HIV/AIDS symptoms in humans has inspired other researches to take a closer look at the mechanisms behind these effects.
A research team from Virginia Commonweatlh University showed that natural Delta9- THC and synthetic CP-55,940 could inhibit the HIV inflammatory response through the Cannabinoid Type II (CB2) Receptor. Once HIV invades a cell, the virus makes the cell secrete many proteins to attract other immune cells and this leads to the ongoing infection of other cells. One such protein called Tat is important for viral replication and gene expression; the effects of this protein on cell migration appear to be inhibited by both synthetic and natural cannabinoids. The main finding of these researchers is that cannabinoids can slow the migration of uninfected cells towards the Tat protein and thus could inhibit the HIV infection process and the associated inflammation.
Another research group also thought that the previous worked on HIV and cannabinoids was unbelievable. So, they sought to see if THC made the disease worse in monkeys. The researchers infected monkeys with SIV and studied them for 1 year. SIV is the equivalent of HIV in humans. Their research was published in September 2010 and the entire article can be found here:Molina Article on THC attenuates SIV.
Note that each monkey costs around $8,000.00 for the research study.
The researcher demonstrated that THC slows the progression of HIV in primates. See Figure 4 below from the Article by Molina et al.
In Figure 4, there are two groups of monkeys. The solid line is the THC group and the dotted line is the control group (no drug). Within 11 months, 80% of the control group died (dotted line). In the group that received the drug THC, no deaths were reported.
The authors conclude :”this study is the first to report in vivo experimental data demonstrating that chronic THC initiated prior to, and continued throughout the asymptomatic phase of SIV infection, does not impair the host’s ability to control viral load, and does not increase morbidity and mortality from the infection… THC treatment clearly did not increase disease progression, and indeed resulted in generalized attenuation of the classic markers of SIV disease (set point viral load/viral level in general)…based on our results and reports in the literature, we speculate that retention of body mass,attenuation of viral replication, and an overall immunosuppressant effect of cannabinoids may contribute to the amelioration of SIV disease progression seen in our study.”
However, THC is only part of the story. There are over 500 compounds on the Cannabis plant and some of these compounds may contain powerful medical properties which could treat a variety of diseases including Cancer and HIV/AIDS. For instance researchers have found that Cannabis extracts which contain Denbinobin can inhibit HIV replication in a petri dish. Denbinobin is found on the Cannabis and other plants as well.
The therapeutic promise of this plant remains high and some states have medical laws allowing the use of Cannabis for HIV. Furthermore, Marinol or synthetic THC in a capsule remains available by prescription in the U.S. GW pharmaceuticals has an extract available for the treatment of HIV symptoms but it is not allowed in the United States. It is available in Canada, UK, Spain, and soon to be available in South America.
Want to learn more about HIV/AIDS and cannabinoids? Here are two new studies on HIV/AIDS and cannabinoids:
Jahan Marcu, Ph.D, is currently investigating the pharmacology of cannabinoid receptors. He was working at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute when exciting discoveries were made showing enhanced anti-cancer effects with THC and CBD from the Cannabis plant. The findings were published in the Journal of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. In 2009 he received the Billy Martin Award from the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) and was named Cannabis Researcher of the year for 2012. Jahan is currently the vice-chair the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board at Americans for Safe Access (ASA). Questions? Contact :[email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent any University, business or affiliates. While the information provided in this blog is from published scientific studies it is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.