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Researchers at the  University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have found a link between cocaine use and increased risk of HIV infection. 

For some people the news that cocaine, the poster drug of the 80s, increases the risk of HIV infection might not come as a surprise. Cocaine is known for increasing confidence and lowering inhibitions which can undoubtedly lead to riskier sexual behaviour – but that would be HIV transmission, what this study focuses on is the actual infection.

Blood was taken from healthy donors, and then exposed to cocaine for three days and, subsequently, samples of HIV. The researchers observed the  cocaine affecting healthy CD4 t-helper cells. “The surprising result was that the changes cocaine induced on these cells were very minimal, yet they were sufficient to fuel infection.” said Dimitrios Vatakis, senior author of the study.

The CD4 cells are instrumental in the way your immune system works. Imagine an orchestra, every section varied in its role but working towards them same goal – the only way they can work together, however, is by taking their lead from the conductor. The CD4 cell is your immune system’s orchestra, once they are compromised by HIV they are unable to effectively do their job and your immune system falls.

Although this research is, thus far, limited to samples in a laboratory the researchers believe that this may well have real world implications – “a commensurate increase in the viral reservoir has significant implications for HIV seropositive individuals who abuse or use stimulants such as cocaine.”

The study now moves to the next step, with testing on mice to further understand how cocaine and HIV interact on a living physiology.

It looks like there’s yet another reason to steer clear of the white stuff, eh?

The study can be found on the UCLA website: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/cocaine-use-can-make-otherwise-248660.aspx

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