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A study has been conducted into whether THC can lessen SIV’s impact on the guts of primates. But what does that mean for us humans?

HIV doesn’t often get a lot of mainstream media coverage when it’s not World AIDS day.

It would seem that one of the most widely spread infections in the world (with over 34 million people living with HIV today) doesn’t get much attention unless it’s to comment on a common topic; a cure.

There’s been a recent flurry of media activity surrounding the potential cure of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus from treatment with a key ingredient found in marijuana.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychotropic element of marijuana and has been used in an ongoing study at Louisiana State University and the Tulane Primate Center, where half of a group of SIV- macaques were injected with THC over the course of 17 months and then given an injection containing Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV), which is a cousin of HIV that affects primate species.

The gut of the macaques was examined as it is an important site for the replication of SIV (and HIV), and long-term inflammation can impact disease progression. Each test subject was confirmed to be SIV-Positive and studies performed post treatment and infection discovered that the viral load in the duodenum of macaques administered with THC treatment was considerably less than the untreated ones. The THC treated macaques also had higher levels of CD8 central memory T-cells in the gut tissue, compared to the group that had not received the THC injections.

It was also discovered that a certain type of CD4 cells were present as a direct reaction to the destruction of CD4 cells by the virus, it was noted that stomach tissues appeared to be less inflamed after the infection had been present for 5 months.

What has been widely-reported are hyperbolic, misleading and incorrect stories with headlines akin to “HIV could be cured from smoking weed”.

While medicinal marijuana has been prescribed to some HIV-Positive people to ease nausea and joint ache linked to antiretroviral treatment, there’s no human study or test in place to examine marijuana’s prevention and repair of damage to stomach tissue.

It is important to note that it is not marijuana in its entirety that is being used as the treatment in this study, but rather a specific ingredient that is taken from the plant and given as in injection. It is also incredibly important to understand that the THC treatment was a 17 month long course that was started prior to SIV infection.

What the study does reveal is that treatment using a specific version of THC could potentially lead to a reduction of long-term damage to one of the key viral replication sites, meaning that the immune system has more of a chance to repair itself naturally.

Touting that marijuana can prevent the spread of HIV, as some publications have, is incorrect and dangerous. The macaques that were put on the THC treatment still became SIV-Positive, the study merely revealed that the course of infection was changed due to the long-term treatment that was administered prior to infection.

In short; think twice before sharing these misleading, link-bait headlines that suggest that: “A HIV cure is just around the corner”. There isn’t a cure for HIV, all we have right now is treatment and prevention.

With studies and clinical trials happening left, right, and centre it’s no wonder the media is confused as to where we are on the journey towards an HIV-free world; but research takes years before to reaches any formal conclusion. Also, given the fact that HIV is still a very new disease, it’s difficult to gauge how these preventions will fare long-term.

To read the full study in AIDS and Human Retroviruses Journal click here.

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