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Marijuana May Have Potential as an HIV Treatment

By Mathew Rodriguez

April 18, 2014

As marijuana continues to gain legal status in some U.S. states, evidence is emerging that it may be able to help in the fight against HIV -- but legal restrictions are making it difficult for scientists to find out for certain.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient in marijuana, could help prevent HIV from spreading throughout the body, according to a recent study. A team of Louisiana State University researchers is behind the findings, which it reached by studying a group of macaque monkeys infected with SIV, the simian form of HIV. After the monkeys received a daily injection of THC for 17 months, researchers saw a dramatic decrease in the damage to the monkey's duodenum (part of the small intestine) and an increased population of healthy cells near the damaged tissue compared to macaques who didn't get THC treatment.

"It adds to the picture and it builds a little bit more information around the potential mechanisms that might be playing a role in the modulation of infection," said Patricia Molina, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study.

Molina's study is in line with science that is researching the gut as a key area of importance in fighting HIV. Also, research suggests that THC could be helpful in preventing infected cells from entering the brain, and that cannabis may have beneficial properties for those with advanced HIV. Several studies have also pointed to marijuana's ability to ameliorate common side effects of HIV and treatment, like loss of appetite and pain.

Finding out whether marijuana has medicinal benefits for people living with HIV may prove difficult, as the substance is still classified as a Schedule I drug -- the most restrictive of the five categories outlined by the Controlled Substances Act. As a result, scientists who want to use marijuana in their research often have trouble getting funding, and the federal government controls access to the small legal supply of "research" marijuana and THC.

Mathew Rodriguez is the community editor for and

Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.

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