Keep your government hands off my macrophages!Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceI realize expecting shame or embarrassment from most drug warriors is a bit too much, but would the possibility that cannabis actually fights HIV at least put an end to a lot of stupid arguing?

A study reported in The Journal of Leukocyte Biology suggests this may be the case, as noted by Wired:

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis — it's the chemical that gets the user stoned. Synthetic versions of it have been developed for research purposes, and it's this that was used to attack the HIV-1 virus, which represents the vast majority (more than 90 percent) of all HIV types.

The way it works is by interaction with the cannabinoid type-2 (CB2) receptor in white blood cells, specifically the macrophages. Macrophages are one of many types of white blood cell in humans. While the main cells, the lymphocytes, do the bulk of the work in fighting infection by tracking down and destroying germs with antibodies, macrophages form a kind of backup part of the immune system -- attracted to damaged cells, they surround and engulf them while also alerting lymphocytes of new dangers.

Macrophages have an unpleasant weakness, though, in that they are one of the first types of cells to be infected by HIV when it enters the body. The virus can live inside macrophages for days, weeks or months, travelling around the body, infecting other cells and acting as an extremely effective pollinator of HIV.

Stopping the HIV virus from infecting macrophages is one method researchers are investigating, as it would dramatically curtail the speed at which the infection progresses and would give time for other antiretrovirals to help keep it at bay, or even remove it.

The CB2 receptor in macrophages is stimulated normally when THC enters the bloodstream, so nothing unusual there. However, it appears that macrophages that have their CB2 receptor stimulated are stronger when it comes to fighting and weakening the HIV-1 virus.

Medical marijuana is already typically sought out by many HIV patients to ease some of the side effects of drug treatments. That marijuana may actually be helping weaken the virus as well would be a great discovery, if true. The federal government’s position (affirmed by both Democratic and Republican leadership) that marijuana has no legitimate medical use grows more and more foolish the more scientists are able to get around the Schedule 1 designation and perform research.