A marijuana component may be able to prevent mental decline in people with HIV.

Mental decline in HIV patients is a common side effect of the disease as it occurs in almost half of those infected. Researchers have published a new study in the journal, AIDS, which suggests that a chemical in marijuana, called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can strengthen their mental stamina.

Norbert Kaminski, the director of the Institute for Integrative Toxicology at Michigan State University and lead author of the study, states that cognitive decline occurs in many HIV patients due to chronic inflammation in the brain. According to him, this happens because the immune system is constantly stimulated to fight off the disease.

Kaminski and his co-author, Mike Rizzo, a graduate student in toxicology, found that certain marijuana compounds were able to act as anti-inflammatory agents. These compounds reduced the number of monocytes, which are inflammatory white blood cells, and lowered the number of proteins they release in the body.

“This decrease of cells could slow down, or maybe even stop, the inflammatory process, potentially helping patients maintain their cognitive function longer,” notes Rizzo.

The study involved 40 HIV patients all of whom reported whether or not they used marijuana. After taking samples of their blood, Kaminsky and Rizzo isolated the white blood cells from each donor and studied inflammatory cell levels and the effect marijuana had on the cells.

Kaminski notes that the patients who didn’t smoke marijuana had very high levels of inflammatory cells whereas those who did use had levels almost similar to that of a healthy person.

A treatment for dealing with the potential mental decline in HIV patients include antiretroviral therapy, which involves a cocktail of drugs to stave off the virus. Scientists note that even with this kind of therapy, certain white cells can remain intact and still be stimulated to the point of becoming inflammatory.

Rizo states that they will continue investigating the cells and how they interact with the brain. He believes that their discovery can potentially help people who have Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s since the same inflammatory cells were responsible for the mental decline.

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