01 Dec AIDS Research: Taking steps to treat disease not just symptoms
As millions of people take part in walks, attend fundraisers and hold vigils on World AIDS Day, there is renewed focus on education, prevention and control of the disease. In scientific and medical circles, medical marijuana is a hot topic of conversation.
Two decades after researchers determined marijuana could effectively treat symptoms associated with HIV/AIDS and the medication that treats it (antiretrovirals), they are now exploring the possibility that it can be used to fight the virus itself.
In a study conducted at Louisiana State University just two years ago, THC, an active ingredient in cannabis, decreased damage to the immune tissue in the gut of HIV-infected monkeys. That was a significant finding because when gut tissue is damaged, which happens early, the virus can leak into the bloodstream.
In the two years immediately preceding that study, one researcher found evidence indicating that cannabis could help prevent HIV from infecting the brain and a group of researchers at Harvard University found that cannabis might be able to help protect the brain from an HIV-created protein that often leads to brain injury.
A separate study found that cannabis compounds might be able to fight HIV in patients with advanced AIDS by triggering receptors on immune cells that inhibit the virus in those patients.
Looking into the possibility that marijuana can be used to fight HIV/AIDS is “certainly warranted,” says Dr. Roger Ferreira, a neuroimmunologist who has studied brain inflammation and looked at the role cannabis might play in treating the problem. “I think it’s quite positive that emerging scientific research is looking at the mechanisms by which cannabinoids can affect the disease process itself.”
Cannabis can provide ‘tremendous value’ in managing symptoms
For at least two decades, cannabis has been used to alleviate symptoms of HIV/AIDS and the antiretroviral drugs that treat it.
California-based physician Kate Scannell is among a growing number of doctors who support this use of cannabis. “From working with AIDS and cancer patients, I repeatedly saw how marijuana could ameliorate a patient’s debilitating fatigue, restore appetite, diminish pain, remedy nausea, cure vomiting and curtail down-to-the-bone weight loss,” she who wrote in The San Francisco Chronicle in 2003. She added that “almost every sick and dying patient [she had] ever known who tried medical marijuana experienced a kinder death.”
Ferreira voices a similar sentiment. “I believe that the use of cannabis as a supplementary treatment to antiretroviral therapies and other first-line AIDS therapies can provide tremendous value in its ability to manage disease symptoms, and to improve everyday functioning and quality of life,” says Ferreira, who is CEO and director of Beleave, a Canadian biotech company committed to becoming a licensed producer of medical marijuana.
We have come a long way in the battle against HIV/AIDS — it has gone from a terminal illness to a chronic condition — and we’re poised to go further still. “I’m really excited to see what clinical investigations reveal,” says Ferreira, “and what the future holds.”