As the MSU researchers found, though, those that didn’t smoke marijuana had a far higher level of inflammatory cells compared to those who did imbibe, suggesting the substance has an anti-inflammatory property. In vitro experimentation using THC and isolated white blood cells seemed to confirm this.
“In fact, those who used marijuana had levels pretty close to a healthy person not infected with HIV,” Kaminski added.
Less inflammation in the brain could potentially help them maintain normal brain functions for far longer, they suggest.
Some caveats are needed, though. This was a small population size, so it's too early to definitively describe a relationship between marijuana’s tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the behavior of the immune system. It's also noted that elevated numbers of CD16+ monocytes are "implicated" in HIV-linked inflammation of the brain, but a concrete cause-and-effect link appears to remain elusive.
Additionally, this wasn’t a longitudinal study, so you can’t yet say with confidence that those that smoke marijuana – which itself comes with some health risks in some cases – did have a better cognitive state after the fact.
Still, it’s definitely an interesting study, and one that more research will shed additional light on.
HIV is currently incurable – but contemporary anti-viral treatment does allow many of those afflicted by it to live an essentially normal life. In fact, it is now possible to produce (proof-of-concept) functional cures for the virus.
As is often apparent, most of the research that makes the headlines involves the hunt for a cure. The sort of work featured in this new study, which looks at how to mitigate the dangerous effects of the virus on the patient during their lifetime, is not often focused on as much – so novel work, like that conducted by MSU, is always welcome.