Background: Cannabis is a widely used drug in the United States, and the frequency of cannabis use in the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected population is disproportionately high. Previous human and macaque studies suggest that cannabis may have an impact on plasma viral load; however, the relationship between cannabis use and HIV-associated systemic inflammation and immune activation has not been well defined.
Methods: The impact of cannabis use on peripheral immune cell frequency, activation, and function was assessed in 198 HIV-infected, antiretroviral-treated individuals by flow cytometry. Individuals were categorized into heavy, medium, or occasional cannabis users or noncannabis users based on the amount of the cannabis metabolite 11-nor-carboxy-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC-COOH) detected in plasma by mass spectrometry.
Results: Heavy cannabis users had decreased frequencies of human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-DR+CD38+CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell frequencies, compared to frequencies of these cells in non-cannabis-using individuals. Heavy cannabis users had decreased frequencies of intermediate and nonclassical monocyte subsets, as well as decreased frequencies of interleukin 23- and tumor necrosis factor-α-producing antigen-presenting cells.
Conclusions: While the clinical implications are unclear, our findings suggest that cannabis use is associated with a potentially beneficial reduction in systemic inflammation and immune activation in the context of antiretroviral-treated HIV infection.