A study by researchers at Michigan State University found that medical cannabis can decelerate mental decline, which affects about half of HIV patients.
The MSU study, led by Norbert Kaminski, noted that cognitive function decelerates in many HIV patients, partly because of chronic inflammation occurring in the brain. This happens because the body’s immune system is being constantly stimulated to fight off sickness.
The HIV virus attacks a patient’s immune cells, which are needed by the body to protect itself. But while an HIV-positive person can take medication to keep diseases at bay while his or her immune system is down, the white blood cells can get overstimulated. This over-stimulation causes inflammation as a result.
According to the authors of the study, they were aiming to determine whether cannabis’ anti-inflammatory properties could help fight off the cranial swelling that many HIV patients suffer from. The study found that THC can lessen the monocytes, which are inflammatory white blood cells, and inhibit these cells from releasing harmful proteins into a patient’s bloodstream.
Mike Rizzo, co-author of the study, explained that when monocytes are reduced, this could slow down the inflammatory process, or even stop it. In turn, it potentially helps patients with HIV maintain their cognitive function much longer.
The study involved 40 HIV patients, whose blood samples were examined. These patients were also asked whether they consume cannabis or not. White blood cells were extracted from all the blood samples, and their inflammation levels were compared with respect to the presence or absence of cannabis components. A substantial variance was detected among medical cannabis users.
Kaminski wrote that patients who did not consume cannabis carried a much higher level of inflammatory cells compared to those who use cannabis. In fact, he noted, the inflammatory cell levels of those who consume cannabis are somewhat close to that of a person who does not have HIV.
Rizzo said that they will continue to investigate inflammatory cells and how they interact, as well as how they cause inflammation in the brain. He pointed out that what they can learn from this could have implications to other brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
This potentially groundbreaking discovery by Kaminski and Rizzo comes in the heels of the University of Florida’s announcement that they will be launching a $3.2-million study on the health effects of cannabis on HIV patients. This study will commence in January 2018 and will involve following around 400 Florida-based patients over the course of five years.
Our article on the Florida study can be found here.
Earlier study finds cannabis problematic for HIV patients when paired with alcohol/drug abuse
Last month, another study also found that HIV patients who use cannabis and abuse alcohol or other drugs at the same time could experience problems with brain function.
This study’s lead researcher, Richard Saitz, said that HIV patients have many reasons to be afflicted with cognitive dysfunction, from the HIV virus to prescribed medications, to related conditions. These patients, he added, also experience mental health symptoms and chronic pain, among other symptoms, and the use of medical or recreational cannabis may seem like an alternative worth considering. However, when it comes to patients who have substance use disorders, it looks like cannabis could have adverse effects on their cognitive function.
According to Saitz and his team, substance abuse disorders affect around 40-74% of HIV patients.
The study was published last month in the “Substance Abuse” journal.