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 Two from the CBD-only arm were withdrawn for safety concerns: phlebotomy aggravating pre-existing anemia and severe hepatitis on 800 mg CBD with newly discovered pancreatic adenocarcinoma,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.”

Cannabis Use as a Protective Factor Against Overweight in HIV-Hepatitis C Virus Co-Infected People (ANRS CO13 HEPAVIH Cohort)

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“Overweight is increasingly prevalent in people living with HIV (PLWH), and is a high risk factor for metabolic disorders in this population. PLWH co-infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) have a higher risk of metabolic disorders than their mono-infected counterparts.

The putative relationship between cannabis use and body weight found in the general population has never been documented in HIV-HCV co-infected people. We tested whether cannabis use is associated with body mass index (BMI), overweight, and underweight in HCV co-infected PLWH (N = 992). Mixed-effects linear and logistic regression models were used to study the association between cannabis use and the three outcomes over time.

After multivariable adjustment, cannabis use was inversely associated with BMI. Cannabis use was associated with a lower and higher risk of overweight and underweight, respectively. Cannabis use should be assessed and taken into account in the clinical management of the HIV-HCV co-infected population.”

Anti-inflammatory effects of recreational marijuana in virally suppressed youth with HIV-1 are reversed by use of tobacco products in combination with marijuana

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“Background: Marijuana’s putative anti-inflammatory properties may benefit HIV-associated comorbidities. How recreational marijuana use affects gene expression in peripheral blood cells (PBC) among youth with HIV-1 (YWH) is unknown.

Approach: YWH with defined substance use (n = 54) receiving similar antiretroviral therapy (ART) were assigned to one of four analysis groups: YWH with detectable plasma HIV-1 (> 50 RNA copies/ml) who did not use substances (H+V+S-), and YWH with undetectable plasma HIV-1 who did not use substances (H+V-S-), or used marijuana alone (H+V-S+[M]), or marijuana in combination with tobacco (H+V-S+[M/T]). Non-substance using youth without HIV infection (H-S-, n = 25) provided a reference group. PBC mRNA was profiled by Affymetrix GeneChip Human Genome U133 Plus 2.0 Array. Differentially expressed genes (DEG) within outcome groups were identified by Significance Analysis of Microarrays and used for Hierarchical Clustering, Principal Component Analysis, and Ingenuity Pathways Analysis.

Results: HIV-1 replication resulted in > 3000 DEG involving 27 perturbed pathways. Viral suppression reduced DEG to 313, normalized all 27 pathways, and down-regulated two additional pathways, while marijuana use among virally suppressed YWH resulted in 434 DEG and no perturbed pathways. Relative to H+V-S-, multiple DEG normalized in H+V-S+[M]. In contrast, H+V-S+[M/T] had 1140 DEG and 10 dysregulated pathways, including multiple proinflammatory genes and six pathways shared by H+V+S-.

Conclusions: YWH receiving ART display unique transcriptome bioprofiles based on viral replication and substance use. In the context of HIV suppression, marijuana use, alone or combined with tobacco, has opposing effects on inflammatory gene expression.”

“Cannabis is effective in the treatment of HIV-associated peripheral neuropathic pain, improves appetite, and enhances overall quality of life in people with HIV. There is emerging evidence that marijuana use attenuates pro-inflammatory pathways in HIV-infected adults, as well as in non-human primates infected with simian immunodeficiency virus.”

Alterations in Brain Cannabinoid Receptor Levels Are Associated with HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders in the ART Era: Implications for Therapeutic Strategies Targeting the Endocannabinoid System

viruses-logo“HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) persist despite the advent of antiretroviral therapy (ART), suggesting underlying systemic and central nervous system (CNS) inflammatory mechanisms.

The endogenous cannabinoid receptors 1 and 2 (CB1 and CB2) modulate inflammatory gene expression and play an important role in maintaining neuronal homeostasis. Cannabis use is disproportionately high among people with HIV (PWH) and may provide a neuroprotective effect for those on ART due to its anti-inflammatory properties. However, expression profiles of CB1 and CB2 in the brains of PWH on ART with HAND have not been reported.

In this study, biochemical and immunohistochemical analyses were performed to determine CB1 and CB2 expression in the brain specimens of HAND donors.

Immunoblot revealed that CB1 and CB2 were differentially expressed in the frontal cortices of HAND brains compared to neurocognitively unimpaired (NUI) brains of PWH. CB1 expression levels negatively correlated with memory and information processing speed. CB1 was primarily localized to neuronal soma in HAND brains versus a more punctate distribution of neuronal processes in NUI brains. CB1 expression was increased in cells with glial morphology and showed increased colocalization with an astroglial marker.

These results suggest that targeting the endocannabinoid system may be a potential therapeutic strategy for HAND.”

The Endocannabinoid System: A Potential Target for the Treatment of Various Diseases

ijms-logo“The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is primarily responsible for maintaining homeostasis, a balance in internal environment (temperature, mood, and immune system) and energy input and output in living, biological systems.

In addition to regulating physiological processes, the ECS directly influences anxiety, feeding behaviour/appetite, emotional behaviour, depression, nervous functions, neurogenesis, neuroprotection, reward, cognition, learning, memory, pain sensation, fertility, pregnancy, and pre-and post-natal development.

The ECS is also involved in several pathophysiological diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases. In recent years, genetic and pharmacological manipulation of the ECS has gained significant interest in medicine, research, and drug discovery and development.

The distribution of the components of the ECS system throughout the body, and the physiological/pathophysiological role of the ECS-signalling pathways in many diseases, all offer promising opportunities for the development of novel cannabinergic, cannabimimetic, and cannabinoid-based therapeutic drugs that genetically or pharmacologically modulate the ECS via inhibition of metabolic pathways and/or agonism or antagonism of the receptors of the ECS. This modulation results in the differential expression/activity of the components of the ECS that may be beneficial in the treatment of a number of diseases.

This manuscript in-depth review will investigate the potential of the ECS in the treatment of various diseases, and to put forth the suggestion that many of these secondary metabolites of Cannabis sativa L. (hereafter referred to as “C. sativa L.” or “medical cannabis”), may also have potential as lead compounds in the development of cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals for a variety of diseases.”


“Cannabis sativa L. as a Natural Drug Meeting the Criteria of a Multitarget Approach to Treatment”

Cannabis and Inflammation in HIV: A Review of Human and Animal Studies

viruses-logo“Persistent inflammation occurs in people with HIV (PWH) and has many downstream adverse effects including myocardial infarction, neurocognitive impairment and death.

Because the proportion of people with HIV who use cannabis is high and cannabis may be anti-inflammatory, it is important to characterize the impact of cannabis use on inflammation specifically in PWH. We performed a selective, non-exhaustive review of the literature on the effects of cannabis on inflammation in PWH.

Research in this area suggests that cannabinoids are anti-inflammatory in the setting of HIV. Anti-inflammatory actions are mediated in many cases through effects on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the gut, and through stabilization of gut-blood barrier integrity. Cannabidiol may be particularly important as an anti-inflammatory cannabinoid. Cannabis may provide a beneficial intervention to reduce morbidity related to inflammation in PWH.”

Targeting the endocannabinoid system for management of HIV-associated neuropathic pain: A systematic review

IBRO Neuroscience Reports“Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and antiretroviral therapy can independently induce HIV-associated neuropathic pain (HIV-NP).

Smoked cannabis has been reported to improve pain measures in patients with neuropathic pain.

Two clinical trials demonstrated greater efficacy of smoked cannabis over placebo in alleviating HIV-NP.

The available preclinical results suggest that targeting the ECS for prevention and treatment of HIV-NP is a plausible therapeutic option.

Clinical evidence shows that smoked cannabis alleviates HIV-NP.”

“Smoked cannabis has been shown to be effective for managing HIV-NP in two RCTs.”

Daily Cannabis Use is Associated With Lower CNS Inflammation in People With HIV

Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society“Recent cannabis exposure has been associated with lower rates of neurocognitive impairment in people with HIV (PWH). Cannabis’s anti-inflammatory properties may underlie this relationship by reducing chronic neuroinflammation in PWH.

This study examined relations between cannabis use and inflammatory biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and plasma, and cognitive correlates of these biomarkers within a community-based sample of PWH.

Results: HIV+ daily cannabis users showed lower MCP-1 and IP-10 levels in CSF compared to HIV+ non-cannabis users (p = .015; p = .039) and were similar to HIV- non-cannabis users. Plasma biomarkers showed no differences by cannabis use. Among PWH, lower CSF MCP-1 and lower CSF IP-10 were associated with better learning performance (all ps < .05).

Conclusions: Current daily cannabis use was associated with lower levels of pro-inflammatory chemokines implicated in HIV pathogenesis and these chemokines were linked to the cognitive domain of learning which is commonly impaired in PWH. Cannabinoid-related reductions of MCP-1 and IP-10, if confirmed, suggest a role for medicinal cannabis in the mitigation of persistent inflammation and cognitive impacts of HIV.”