Marijuana and cocaine impair alveolar macrophage function and cytokine production

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1997 Nov;156(5):1606-13. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.156.5.9704146.


Use of marijuana and cocaine is on the rise in the United States. Although pulmonary toxicity from these drugs has occasionally been reported, little is known about their effects on the lung microenvironment. We evaluated the function of alveolar macrophages (AMs) recovered from the lungs of nonsmokers and habitual smokers of either tobacco, marijuana, or crack cocaine. AMs recovered from marijuana smokers were deficient in their ability to phagocytose Staphylococcus aureus (p < 0.01). AMs from marijuana smokers and from cocaine users were also severely limited in their ability to kill both bacteria and tumor cells (p < 0.01). Studies using NG-monomethyl-L-arginine monoacetate, an inhibitor of nitric oxide synthase, suggest that AMs from nonsmokers and tobacco smokers were able to use nitric oxide as an antibacterial effector molecule, while AMs from smokers of marijuana and cocaine were not. Finally, AMs from marijuana smokers, but not from smokers of tobacco or cocaine, produced less than normal amounts of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, and interleukin-6 when stimulated in culture with lipopolysaccharide. In contrast, the production of transforming growth factor-beta, an immunosuppressive cytokine, was similar in all groups. These findings indicate that habitual exposure of the lung to either marijuana or cocaine impairs the function and/or cytokine production of AMs. The ultimate outcome of these effects may be an enhanced susceptibility to infectious disease, cancer, and AIDS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arginine / analogs & derivatives
  • Arginine / pharmacology
  • Crack Cocaine*
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis*
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic
  • Female
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / biosynthesis
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / biosynthesis
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / drug effects*
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / immunology
  • Male
  • Marijuana Smoking / immunology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Phagocytosis
  • Smoking / immunology
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Substance-Related Disorders / immunology*
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / biosynthesis
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / biosynthesis


  • Crack Cocaine
  • Cytokines
  • Interleukin-6
  • N(G)-monomethylarginine acetate
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor
  • Arginine
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase