What is HIV/AIDS?
Everyone has heard of HIV/AIDS, and it has a dreary connotation that goes along with it. It is a sexually transmitted disease that progressively impairs the immune system until a common cold could become impossible for your body to defend against. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and this virus attacks the T-cells of our immune system.
Without T-cells, our immune system simply cannot function. After T-cell counts drop below 200 cells per 1 mm^3 of blood, the condition becomes AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. In all cases, HIV will lead to AIDS, but some people become infected with HIV, exhibit flu-like symptoms for a few weeks, and then present no further symptoms for years or even decades. In fact, one out of eight infected don’t even know that they have contracted this disease!
How does HIV work?
When one contracts HIV, the virus is attracted to white blood cells which comprise our immune system. On the surface of these cells are receptors which bind to pathogens that are foreign to our body, and other receptors which bind with chemokines and cytokines that healthy cells release when they are under stress or injury.
The HIV virus binds with these chemokine receptors, specifically CXCR4, and causes the cell to become activated and travel to a lymph node to activate other immune cells because it found a pathogen that needs to be eradicated. However, HIV is much more deadly than other viruses because when it enters a cell. It actually hijacks the DNA of that cell and uses it to create more versions of itself.
Once the virus has successfully synthesized more of its own material, the original host cell might die due to exhaustion. In other cases, it dies through a process called pyroptosis, which involves the immense release of inflammatory hormones that cause the cell to swell and burst. When it dies, it releases an inordinate amount of these same chemokines which induce other immune system cells to undergo the same process.
Ironically, the overwhelming majority of cell death due to HIV occurs in cells that aren’t even infected with the virus. This is able to happen because once an infected cell dies, it releases an immense amount of chemokines and HIV particles, creating a hyper-inflammatory environment in the lymph system; healthy cells absorb chemokines from an infected T-cell that exploded, and then undergo the same process of pyroptosis. It can be thought of as igniting a chain reaction of cell death, and this process is why HIV turns into AIDS, and why AIDS is so deadly.
Can CBD really help?
CBD and other plant cannabinoids when used in combination have the net effect of agonizing, or activating, CB2 receptors on the surfaces of immune system cells. The result of activation of these receptors is twofold. First, it causes an increase in the amount of cellular activity, which means a boosted immune response. Secondly, it actually reduces the signalling capability of the receptors which HIV virions require to infect a T-cell.
In one study, monkeys were given a CB2 activator daily for 17 months, and then introduced to the simian version of HIV (SIV) and observed. They exhibited 60-80% less infection indicators after 5 months, which means CB2 activation directly limits the ability of HIV to destroy immune tissue. With more research on this topic, cannabinoid therapy based around CBD-rich oil can become a viable form of treatment and possibly even prevention of HIV/AIDS, at a fraction of the cost and an exponent of the efficacy of current treatments.