As more U.S. voters cast their ballots on legalizing marijuana, or cannabis, a Michigan State University researcher is discovering exactly how its compounds can help reduce inflammation in the brain.
Norbert Kaminski, a toxicologist who has studied the effects of cannabis since 1990, has received a five-year, $2.4 million National Institutes of Health grant to further his work on the role cannabis plays in decreasing brain inflammation in HIV patients.
Previously, Kaminski found that the chemical THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, in marijuana acted as an anti-inflammatory agent and could slow down the mental decline that many HIV patients experience. This decrease in brain function is caused in part by immune or white blood cells that are constantly being stimulated and can then migrate to the brain.
HIV, which stands for human immunodeficiency virus, can destroy or change the functions of these cells that defend the body.
Kaminski’s new study will investigate how white blood cells interact with astrocytes, brain cells that are associated with the central nervous system and are involved in the inflammation of nervous tissue in the body.
“The interaction between these cells may lead to even stronger inflammatory responses in the brain resulting in the release of proteins that can damage or destroy the neurons associated with cognitive function,” Kaminski said. “We want to know if the compounds in cannabis can reduce or even block this effect.”
Kaminski and his team will take blood samples from several hundred HIV patients who will report whether or not they use medical marijuana. From there, they will assess various aspects of the patients’ immune system as it may relate to indicators of systemic inflammation.
His work also could shed light on inflammation that occurs in other brain-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, with hopes of the research leading to additional therapeutic options.