Marijuana-like compounds can inhibit the multiplication of human immunodeficiency (HIV) virus in late-stage AIDS by acting on viral receptors. The results are from a new study were published by researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in the journal PloS ONE
Cannabis is used medicinally in diseases which are accompanied by appetite loss or by severe weight loss, and also for the management of chronic pain, symptoms that are usually present in the latter stages of AIDS, reports Cristian Mihon at Doctor Tipster
Through this study, scientists learned that the cannabinoid receptors on the surface of immune cells, CB1 and CB2, are triggered by marijuana-like compounds and can inhibit the spread of HIV through the body. It’s crucial for scientists to know the effects of activating these CB1 and CB2 receptors, because that knowledge might be used in the future to develop new drugs that can slow the progression of AIDS.
|Cristina Maria Costantino, Mount Sinai School of Medicine: “We knew that cannabinoid drugs like marijuana can have a therapeutic effect in AIDS patients, but did not understand how they influence the spread of the virus itself”|
“We knew that cannabinoid drugs like marijuana can have a therapeutic effect in AIDS patients, but did not understand how they influence the spread of the virus itself,” said Cristina Maria Costantino, the leader of the study. “We wanted to explore cannabinoid receptors as a target for pharmaceutical interventions that treat the symptoms of late-stage AIDS and prevent further progression of the disease without the undesirable side effects of marijuana.”
The HIV virus infects T helper lymphocytes when it enters the body, rendering them ineffective in fighting infection. In order to spread, HIV needs inactive T helper lymphocytes to be activated by the immune system.
In late stage AIDS, viral genome mutations are produced in order to penetrate inactive T helper lymphocytes; this action is mediated by a signaling receptor called CXCR4. By using marijuana-like chemicals—cannabinoid receptor agonists which are able to activate CB2 receptors—the scientists noticed that the activated CB2 receptor can block the CXCR4 receptor, thus suppressing the spread of infection to inactive T helper lymphocytes.
By triggering CB1 receptors, it was observed that marijuana-like compounds have the same effects as marijuana, causing “unwanted side effects”—that’s what scientists call the cannabis “high.” (They may not want it, but they need to speak for themselves.)
The scientists want to develop marijuana-like compounds that only trigger CB2 receptors, to reduce the infection of inactive T helper cells, without producing the euphoria associated with marijuana. (What they’re neglecting to take account of, of course, is the fact that the high of cannabis is part of its healing properties.)
“Developing a drug that triggers only CB2 as an adjunctive treatment to standard antiviral medication may help alleviate the symptoms of late-stage AIDS and prevent the virus from spreading,” the researchers concluded.
HIV apparently infects inactive T helper lymphocytes by using CXCR4 receptors only in advanced stages of AIDS, so the marijuana-like compounds only seem to be effective in the late stages of the disease.
Since the study’s results were deemed “very promising” in vitro, researchers now want to develop a lab mouse model with late-stage AIDS to test the effectiveness of the marijuana-like compounds that are triggering CB2 receptors in vivo. (Wouldn’t it be a lot simpler to just use natural phytocannabinoids?)