HIV spreads progressively in specific types of cells, often resisting treatment, and one result is chronic inflammation. Researchers are working on an anti-inflammatory treatment that will attack HIV in the immune system cells that it tends to infect.

While antiretroviral treatments are beginning to give HIV patients a more normal lifespan, it is still a crucial time for this new treatment to be developed – the fact is that antiretroviral drugs don’t cure the disease. They can increase a person’s life span, but how is quality of life affected when the virus has many more years to replicate within the body? Inflammation can reach such severe levels that other complications are caused. Such inflammation is also suspected to be associated with the neurocognitive symptoms of HIV.

The CB2 receptor – a protein found on the surface of an immune cell known as a macrophage – may help block central nervous system inflammation. The way this protein is affected by the active ingredient in cannabis may have provided vital data on the prevention of neurocognitive complications.

So why did the researchers focus on macrophages, when it is commonly thought that T cells are the HIV’s immune system hiding spot? Macrophages perform a very specific duty in the body – they are just one of the body’s many types of WBCs (white blood cells), and they are responsible for entrapping and destroying numerous invading cells. Since these cells travel to every part of the human body it is suspected that macrophages are a means by which HIV spreads, including into the brain, thus the potential for neurocognitive symptoms resulting from infected macrophages.

In the studies that were performed a specific enzyme present in HIV replication was observed – in just one week it was revealed that the compound used to activate the CB2 protein was indicating positive results in slowing the spread of HIV. The researchers have therefore proposed that these drugs be administered additional to antiretroviral treatment. The research also supports the notion that the human immune system can be successful in partly counteracting the effects of HIV.

Using these compounds researchers hope to stimulate the body’s natural defenses to counteract HIV symptoms – and while still not a cure, these compounds could continue to enhance the life quality of HIV sufferers.