Rhesus Macaque Mother and Child.
Researchers at Louisiana State University (LSU) have released a study that looks at the effects of THC on the immune system of SIV-positive rhesus macaques monkeys. They found that when the SIV (Simian immunodeficiency virus) infected monkeys were given doses of THC, the results showed an increase in healthy immune cell production and could potentially control disease progression.
SIV acts the same way in monkeys that HIV does in humans, it attacks the immune system and prevents the body from creating the cells it needs to fight off the virus. While SIV has differences from HIV, the general principles are the same. If results are replicated in humans, it would be a major breakthrough in the prevention of HIV/AIDS.
THC affects the CB1 and CB2 receptors found in every human body. CB2 is found in the immune system and previous studies have shown that it could aid in the treatment of inflammation and pain, while CB1 is what creates the “high.”
THC has been in use for treating HIV patients with pain relief, nausea and increased appetite with successful results. In fact, one-third of people living with HIV/AIDS already self-medicate with cannabis.
The LSU study could be an indication that treatment with CB2 receptors could go further than just pain relief, and has the potential of increasing the rate at which the body produces the cells needed to fight off the HIV virus.
With the positive results from the LSU study for treatment of SIV, the next step would be to begin testing THC effects in humans with HIV. But there is one major problem: cannabis is a Schedule I Controlled Substance with no accepted medical value, making domestic research nearly impossible.
Although scientists could go to states such as Washington or Colorado where cannabis is considered legal, they still would have the issue of funding. Most research projects are funded by grants from the federal government and one of the many hurdles to getting cannabis approved includes approval from the FDA and DEA. Even if the project was independently funded, getting approval from the DEA and other government organizations would make cannabis research costly and not immediately accessible.
Some scientists believe that even if the study was to proceed, the results would not be as promising as with the SIV infected. Dr. Leslie Walker, chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital told The Daily Beast, “one cannot make the leap to preventing HIV from this type of study… many things can fight infection in the stomach lining that may have no impact on an overall infection.”
While there are no definitive conclusions to whether this study has shown the path to controlling, preventing and possibly treating HIV infections, it will continue to remain unknown unless research is allowed to continue.
While the debate on whether or not cannabis should be legal and studied continues, scientists could be taking the next step in this study using HIV-positive human patients. If it has the potential to help improve the chances of the 35 million people infected with HIV to live, longer and healthier lives, it should be encouraged and expanded on within the scientific community.