Marijuana’s THC found to help HIV patients maintain mental stamina

In a growing body of evidence that points to the benefits of marijuana, a study made by researchers from Michigan State University indicated that a chemical found in marijuana may be able to slow down cognitive decline that occurs in up to 50 percent of patients with HIV. The study found that the chemical, known as tetrahydrocannabinol or (THC), possesses properties that allow it to impede the degradation of cognitive decline.

“It’s believed that cognitive function decreases in many of those with HIV partly due to chronic inflammation that occurs in the brain,” explained lead author Norbert Kaminski. “This happens because the immune system is constantly being stimulated to fight off disease.”

Kaminski and his team discovered that the anti-inflammatory agents present in marijuana interacted with monocytes, which are inflammatory white blood cells in the body. Researchers pointed that the interaction to be a key step for patients to maintain their cognitive function a bit longer. (Related: Marijuana can help decrease the spread of HIV in patients.)

For the study, the team took blood samples from 40 HIV patients. Samples included patients who have smoked marijuana and those who didn’t. Then, they isolated the white blood cells from each sample and studied the monocyte levels for each cell, as well as the effect that marijuana had on each.

The results indicated that people who use marijuana were at a lower risk of mental decline that those who didn’t. It also indicated that people with cannabinoids (chemical compounds from cannabis) in their bloodstream had inflammation levels similar to people who did not have HIV, as opposed to people who had no cannabinoids.

“HIV patients are living longer because of antiretroviral drugs, but one of the concerns is that the longer they live, the more susceptible they are with time to develop neurocognitive disorders associated with chronic inflammation in the brain,” according to Kaminski. The study noted that future research will target the exact molecules in marijuana that actually decrease the inflammatory process. “Once we do that, we may be able to decelerate that decline in neurocognitive function or maybe even block it,” he quipped.

Fast facts on HIV

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a condition that, if left untreated, will progress to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Once a human body contracts HIV, it cannot be eliminated completely, even with treatment.

HIV can be transmitted from person-to-person through sexual contact, sharing needles to inject drugs, and from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding.

The virus targets the immune system of the body, particularly the T cells — which help fight off infections. If left untreated, HIV can significantly reduce the number of T cells in the body and leave the body too weak to fight off infection or disease. This gives rise to opportunistic infections and cancers that may take advantage of the weakened body. This is when the person is said to have AIDS, the final stage of HIV infection.

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