The Use of CBD and Its Synthetic Analog HU308 in HIV-1-Infected Myeloid Cells

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“Currently, there is no cure for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection. However, combined antiretroviral therapy (cART) aids in viral latency and prevents the progression of HIV-1 infection into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). cART has extended many lives, but people living with HIV-1 (PLWH) face lifelong ailments such as HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) that range from asymptomatic HAND to HIV-1-associated dementia. HAND has been attributed to chronic inflammation and low-level infection within the central nervous system (CNS) caused by proinflammatory cytokines and viral products. These molecules are shuttled into the CNS within extracellular vesicles (EVs), lipid bound nanoparticles, and are released from cells as a form of intercellular communication. This study investigates the impact of cannabidiol (CBD), as a promising and potential therapeutic for HAND patients, and a similar synthetic molecule, HU308, on the EVs released from HIV-1-infected myeloid cells as well as HIV-1-infected 3D neurospheres. The data shows that both CBD and HU308 decrease non-coding and coding viral RNA (TAR and env) as well as proinflammatory cytokines as IL-1β and TNF-α mRNA. This decrease in viral RNA occurs in in vitro differentiated primary macrophages, in EVs released from HIV-1-infected cells monocytes, and infected neurospheres. Furthermore, a 3D neurosphere model shows an overall decrease in proinflammatory mRNA with HU308. Finally, using a humanized mouse model of HIV-1 infection, plasma viral RNA was shown to significantly decrease with HU308 alone and was most effective in combination with cART, even when compared to the typical cART treatment. Overall, CBD or HU308 may be a viable option to decrease EV release and associated cytokines which would dampen the virus spread and may be used in effective treatment of HAND in combination with cART.”

“Taken together, these data indicate that HU308 or CBD decrease viral RNA, and that HU308 and, to some extent, CBD decrease proinflammatory cytokine mRNA released in EVs. Therefore, either CBD or HU308 could potentially be used in combination with cART to target both pro-inflammatory and viral gene expression for the prevention of HAND.”

Anti-inflammatory effects of CBD in human microglial cell line infected with HIV-1

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“Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is associated with a chronic inflammatory stage and continuous activation of inflammasome pathway. We studied the anti-inflammatory effects of the compound cannabidiol (CBD) in comparison with Δ (9)-tetrahydrocannabinol [Δ(9)-THC] in human microglial cells (HC69.5) infected with HIV.

Our results showed that CBD reduced the production of various inflammatory cytokines and chemokines such as MIF, SERPIN E1, IL-6, IL-8, GM-CSF, MCP-1, CXCL1, CXCL10, and IL-1 β compared to Δ(9)-THC treatment. In addition, CBD led to the deactivation of caspase 1, reduced NLRP3 gene expression which play a crucial role in the inflammasome cascade. Furthermore, CBD significantly reduced the expression of HIV.

Our study demonstrated that CBD has anti-inflammatory properties and exhibits significant therapeutic potential against HIV-1 infections and neuroinflammation.”

Antiviral activities of hemp cannabinoids

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“Hemp is an understudied source of pharmacologically active compounds and many unique plant secondary metabolites including more than 100 cannabinoids.

After years of legal restriction, research on hemp has recently demonstrated antiviral activities in silico, in vitro, and in vivo for cannabidiol (CBD), Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), and several other cannabinoids against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and γ-herpes viruses.

Mechanisms of action include inhibition of viral cell entry, inhibition of viral proteases, and stimulation of cellular innate immune responses. The anti-inflammatory properties of cannabinoids are also under investigation for mitigating the cytokine storm of COVID-19 and controlling chronic inflammation in people living with HIV.

Retrospective clinical studies support antiviral activities of CBD, Δ9-THC, and cannabinoid mixtures as do some prospective clinical trials, but appropriately designed clinical trials of safety and efficacy of antiviral cannabinoids are urgently needed.”

“Antiviral activities of some of the most abundant cannabinoids have been documented in silicoin vitro, and in vivo. Studies of the antiviral activities of the more than 100 less abundant cannabinoids are still needed as are carefully designed clinical trials. Based on the preclinical evidence of antiviral activity as well as oral bioavailability and long history of safe human use of cannabinoids individually or as mixtures, multiple clinical studies of antiviral cannabinoid safety and efficacy are in progress worldwide using CBD and Δ9-THC, and additional studies will certainly follow.”

The impact of cannabinoids on inflammasome signaling in HIV-1 infection

NeuroImmune Pharmacology and Therapeutics

“Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) is a chronic disease that afflicts over 38 million people worldwide without a known cure. The advent of effective antiretroviral therapies (ART) has significantly decreased the morbidity and mortality associated with HIV-1 infection in people living with HIV-1 (PWH), thanks to durable virologic suppression. Despite this, people with HIV-1 experience chronic inflammation associated with co-morbidities. While no single known mechanism accounts for chronic inflammation, there is significant evidence to support the role of the NLRP3 inflammasome as a key driver.

Numerous studies have demonstrated therapeutic impact of cannabinoids, including exerting modulatory effects on the NLRP3 inflammasome. Given the high rates of cannabinoid use in PWH, it is of great interest to understand the intersecting biology of the role of cannabinoids in HIV-1-associated inflammasome signaling. Here we describe the literature of chronic inflammation in people with HIV, the therapeutic impact of cannabinoids in PWH, endocannabinoids in inflammation, and HIV-1-associated inflammation. We describe a key interaction between cannabinoids, the NLRP3 inflammasome, and HIV-1 viral infection, which supports further investigation of the critical role of cannabinoids in HIV-1 infection and inflammasome signaling.”

“It is evident from the literature that cannabinoids show protective effects against inflammation associated with HIV-1. In both human and animal studies, THC/cannabis treatment has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers, including NLRP3-associated cytokine signaling and T-cell activation and proliferation. Studies also implicate a neuroprotective effect against NO-mediated cytotoxicity and BBB breakdown in rodents. Taken together, these findings suggest a role for cannabinoid receptor activation in reducing chronic inflammation and associated pathologies in PWH.”

Cannabinoids modulate the microbiota-gut-brain axis in HIV/SIV infection by reducing neuroinflammation and dysbiosis while concurrently elevating endocannabinoid and indole-3-propionate levels

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“Background: Although the advent of combination anti-retroviral therapy (cART) has transformed HIV into a manageable chronic disease, an estimated 30-50% of people living with HIV (PLWH) exhibit cognitive and motor deficits collectively known as HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). A key driver of HAND neuropathology is chronic neuroinflammation, where proinflammatory mediators produced by activated microglia and macrophages are thought to inflict neuronal injury and loss. Moreover, the dysregulation of the microbiota-gut-brain axis (MGBA) in PLWH, consequent to gastrointestinal dysfunction and dysbiosis, can lead to neuroinflammation and persistent cognitive impairment, which underscores the need for new interventions.

Methods: We performed RNA-seq and microRNA profiling in basal ganglia (BG), metabolomics (plasma) and shotgun metagenomic sequencing (colon contents) in uninfected and SIV-infected rhesus macaques (RMs) administered vehicle (VEH/SIV) or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (THC/SIV).

Results: Long-term, low-dose THC reduced neuroinflammation and dysbiosis and significantly increased plasma endocannabinoid, endocannabinoid-like, glycerophospholipid and indole-3-propionate levels in chronically SIV-infected RMs. Chronic THC potently blocked the upregulation of genes associated with type-I interferon responses (NLRC5, CCL2, CXCL10, IRF1, IRF7, STAT2, BST2), excitotoxicity (SLC7A11), and enhanced protein expression of WFS1 (endoplasmic reticulum stress) and CRYM (oxidative stress) in BG. Additionally, THC successfully countered miR-142-3p-mediated suppression of WFS1 protein expression via a cannabinoid receptor-1-mediated mechanism in HCN2 neuronal cells. Most importantly, THC significantly increased the relative abundance of Firmicutes and Clostridia including indole-3-propionate (C. botulinum, C. paraputrificum, and C. cadaveris) and butyrate (C. butyricum, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Butyricicoccus pullicaecorum) producers in colonic contents.

Conclusion: This study demonstrates the potential of long-term, low-dose THC to positively modulate the MGBA by reducing neuroinflammation, enhancing endocannabinoid levels and promoting the growth of gut bacterial species that produce neuroprotective metabolites, like indole-3-propionate. The findings from this study may benefit not only PLWH on cART, but also those with no access to cART and more importantly, those who fail to suppress the virus under cART.”

The Endocannabinoid System as a Potential Therapeutic Target for HIV-1-Associated Neurocognitive Disorder

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“Background: Despite the successful introduction of combined antiretroviral therapy, the prevalence of mild to moderate forms of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) remains high. It has been demonstrated that neuronal injury caused by HIV is excitotoxic and inflammatory, and it correlates with neurocognitive decline in HAND. Endocannabinoid system (ECS) protects the body from excitotoxicity and neuroinflammation on demand and presents a promising therapeutic target for treating HAND. Here, we firstly discuss the potential pathogenesis of HAND. We secondly discuss the structural and functional changes in the ECS that are currently known among HAND patients. We thirdly discuss current clinical and preclinical findings concerning the neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties of the ECS among HAND patients. Fourth, we will discuss the interactions between the ECS and neuroendocrine systems, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) and hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axes under the HAND conditions. 

Materials and Methods: We have carried out a review of the literature using PubMed to summarize the current state of knowledge on the association between ECS and HAND. 

Results: The ECS may be ideally suited for modulation of HAND pathophysiology. Direct activation of presynaptic cannabinoid receptor 1 or reduction of cannabinoid metabolism attenuates HAND excitotoxicity. Chronic neuroinflammation associated with HAND can be reduced by activating cannabinoid receptor 2 on immune cells. The sensitivity of the ECS to HIV may be enhanced by increased cannabinoid receptor expression in HAND. In addition, indirect regulation of the ECS through modulation of hormone-related receptors may be a potential strategy to influence the ECS and also alleviate the progression of HAND due to the reciprocal inhibition of the ECS by the HPA and HPG axes. 

Conclusions: Taken together, targeting the ECS may be a promising strategy to alleviate the inflammation and neurodegeneration caused by HIV-1 infection. Further studies are required to clarify the role of endocannabinoid signaling in HIV neurotoxicity. Strategies promoting endocannabinoid signaling may slow down cognitive decline of HAND are proposed.”

Cannabis as antivirals

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“Cannabis is a plant notorious for its psychoactive effect, but when used correctly, it provides a plethora of medicinal benefits. With more than 400 active compounds that have therapeutic properties, cannabis has been accepted widely as a medical treatment and for recreational purposes in several countries.

The compounds exhibit various clinical benefits, which include, but are not limited to, anticancer, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties.

Among the vast range of compounds, multiple research papers have shown that cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, have antiviral effects. Recently, scientists found that both compounds can reduce severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) viral infection by downregulating ACE2 transcript levels and by exerting anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds also act as the SARS-CoV-2 main protease inhibitors that block viral replication.

Apart from cannabinoids, terpenes in cannabis plants have also been widely explored for their antiviral properties. With particular emphasis on four different viruses, SARS-CoV-2, human immunodeficiency virus, hepatitis C virus, and herpes simplex virus-1, this review discussed the role of cannabis compounds in combating viral infections and the potential of both cannabinoids and terpenes as novel antiviral therapeutics.”

“Recently, scientists have discovered the potential medical roles of cannabis compounds in viral diseases. Cannabinoids such as CBD and Δ-9-THC, as well as essential oil such as terpenes extracted from the cannabis plants, were reported to have therapeutic effects in several virus infections such as SARS-CoV-2, HIV, HCV, and HSV.”

Safety and Tolerability of Oral Cannabinoids in People Living with HIV on Long-Term ART: A Randomized, Open-Label, Interventional Pilot Clinical Trial (CTNPT 028)


“Background: With anti-inflammatory properties, cannabinoids may be a potential strategy to reduce immune activation in people living with HIV (PLWH) but more information on their safety and tolerability is needed.

Methods: We conducted an open-label interventional pilot study at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, Canada. PLWH were randomized to oral Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): cannabidiol (CBD) combination (THC 2.5 mg/CBD 2.5 mg) or CBD-only capsules (CBD 200 mg). Individuals titrated doses as tolerated to a maximum daily dose THC 15 mg/CBD 15 mg or 800 mg CBD, respectively, for 12 weeks. The primary outcome was the percentage of participants without any significant toxicity based on the WHO toxicity scale (Grades 0-2 scores).

Results: Out of ten individuals, eight completed the study. Two from the CBD-only arm were withdrawn for safety concerns: phlebotomy aggravating pre-existing anemia and severe hepatitis on 800 mg CBD with newly discovered pancreatic adenocarcinoma, respectively. Seven did not have any significant toxicity. Cannabinoids did not alter hematology/biochemistry profiles. CD4 count, CD4/CD8 ratio, and HIV suppression remained stable. Most adverse effects were mild-moderate.

Conclusions: In PLWH, cannabinoids seem generally safe and well-tolerated, though larger studies are needed. Screening for occult liver pathology should be performed and hepatic enzymes monitored, especially with high CBD doses.”

Cannabidiol modulates expression of type I IFN response genes and HIV infection in macrophages

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“Cannabis (Cannabis sativa) is a widely used drug in the United States and the frequency of cannabis use is particularly high among people living with HIV (PLWH). One key component of cannabis, the non-psychotropic (-)-cannabidiol (CBD) exerts a wide variety of biological actions, including anticonvulsive, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory effects. However, the exact mechanism of action through which CBD affects the immune cell signaling remains poorly understood. Here we report that CBD modulates type I interferon responses in human macrophages. Transcriptomics analysis shows that CBD treatment significantly attenuates cGAS-STING-mediated activation of type I Interferon response genes (ISGs) in monocytic THP-1 cells. We further showed that CBD treatment effectively attenuates 2’3-cGAMP stimulation of ISGs in both THP-1 cells and primary human macrophages. Interestingly, CBD significantly upregulates expression of autophagy receptor p62/SQSTM1. p62 is critical for autophagy-mediated degradation of stimulated STING. We observed that CBD treated THP-1 cells have elevated autophagy activity. Upon 2’3′-cGAMP stimulation, CBD treated cells have rapid downregulation of phosphorylated-STING, leading to attenuated expression of ISGs. The CBD attenuation of ISGs is reduced in autophagy deficient THP-1 cells, suggesting that the effects of CBD on ISGs is partially mediated by autophagy induction. Lastly, CBD decreases ISGs expression upon HIV infection in THP-1 cells and human primary macrophages, leading to increased HIV RNA expression 24 hours after infection. However, long term culture with CBD in infected primary macrophages reduced HIV viral spread, suggesting potential dichotomous roles of CBD in HIV replication. Our study highlights the immune modulatory effects of CBD and the needs for additional studies on its effect on viral infection and inflammation.”

Chronic delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) treatment counteracts SIV-induced modulation of proinflammatory microRNA cargo in basal ganglia-derived extracellular vesicles

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“Background: Early invasion of the central nervous system (CNS) by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (Gray et al. in Brain Pathol 6:1-15, 1996; An et al. in Ann Neurol 40:611-6172, 1996), results in neuroinflammation, potentially through extracellular vesicles (EVs) and their micro RNAs (miRNA) cargoes (Sharma et al. in FASEB J 32:5174-5185, 2018; Hu et al. in Cell Death Dis 3:e381, 2012). Although the basal ganglia (BG) is a major target and reservoir of HIV in the CNS (Chaganti et al. in Aids 33:1843-1852, 2019; Mintzopoulos et al. in Magn Reson Med 81:2896-2904, 2019), whether BG produces EVs and the effect of HIV and/or the phytocannabinoid-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on BG-EVs and HIV neuropathogenesis remain unknown.

Methods: We used the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) model of HIV and THC treatment in rhesus macaques (Molina et al. in AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses 27:585-592, 2011) to demonstrate for the first time that BG contains EVs (BG-EVs), and that BG-EVs cargo and function are modulated by SIV and THC. We also used primary astrocytes from the brains of wild type (WT) and CX3CR1+/GFP mice to investigate the significance of BG-EVs in CNS cells.

Results: Significant changes in BG-EV-associated miRNA specific to SIV infection and THC treatment were observed. BG-EVs from SIV-infected rhesus macaques (SIV EVs) contained 11 significantly downregulated miRNAs. Remarkably, intervention with THC led to significant upregulation of 37 miRNAs in BG-EVs (SIV-THC EVs). Most of these miRNAs are predicted to regulate pathways related to inflammation/immune regulation, TLR signaling, Neurotrophin TRK receptor signaling, and cell death/response. BG-EVs activated WT and CX3CR1+/GFP astrocytes and altered the expression of CD40, TNFα, MMP-2, and MMP-2 gene products in primary mouse astrocytes in an EV and CX3CR1 dependent manners.

Conclusions: Our findings reveal a role for BG-EVs as a vehicle with potential to disseminate HIV- and THC-induced changes within the CNS.”

“In summary, the findings of this study suggest that HIV/SIV infection reprograms the BG leading to the release of pathogenic EVs that may potentially promote CNS inflammation and toxicity. However, cannabinoid mediated modulation of EV cargo composition as shown in this study maybe a mechanism for the regulation of HIV/SIV-induced changes. This is significant, because exploration of the potential of THC EVs in a preclinical animal model may be logical to investigate whether the clinical advantages of THC EVs will result in beneficial outcomes. The findings of this study also pave the way for investigation into the effects of the combined administration of THC:CBD [1:1 or 1:3 ratio] on neuroinflammation and their effects on BG-EV composition and function. The implication of our findings goes beyond HIV-induced inflammation. Glia cells (microglia and astrocytes) are involved in the pathogenesis of pain. Activated/reactive astrocytes play a role in neuropathic pain, inflammatory pain, as well as bone cancer pain. Activated astrocytes are also involved in Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, and traumatic brain injury. In line with their role in the pathogenesis of pain, studies are warranted to assess the effect of CNS EVs in mediating the development and maintenance of pain.”