Marijuana and/or its psychoactive ingredient THC have been reported to suppress many immune functions. These include the function of cells important in controlling infections commonly seen among people living with HIV. Marijuana may also increase your risk for certain infections, including herpes and a variety of other bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Some of these infections may result in increased HIV levels. None of this, however, has been clearly documented in HIV-positive people.
There are many possibly harmful effects from smoking marijuana, just as there would be from inhaling almost any other form of smoke. Most of the studies citing these effects were conducted many years ago, and conflicting reports can often be found among all of them. Many people question whether political motives may have influenced early studies of marijuana. For people living with HIV, the largest safety concerns when using marijuana are the affects on:
Smoking marijuana has become a popular treatment for weight loss associated with HIV. Claims about its effectiveness are based largely on individual experience rather than data from studies. A synthetic form of the most active ingredient in marijuana, called dronabinol (Marinol), is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It is available by prescription for treating HIV-related weight loss (anorexia), as well as treating nausea for people undergoing chemotherapy.
A recent report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences stated that certain chemicals found in marijuana may help manage certain conditions in some people, but that marijuana smoke, like tobacco smoke, is harmful. Though there is an oral medication (dronabinol) that is supposed to mimic the desired effects of smoking marijuana, many people prefer to smoke or eat marijuana in its natural form.
The oral drug, dronabinol (Marinol), was approved in 1992 for use in treating anorexia in people with HIV-related wasting. The active ingredient in dronabinol is THC, which is one of the main psychoactive agents in marijuana and the chemical that makes someone feel “stoned.” For treating HIV-related weight loss, THC probably helps as an appetite stimulant, in the same way people who are “stoned” get the munchies.
Overall, studies suggest that people using marijuana eat more but the food they eat is generally snack food, like cookies and junk food. They also exercise less and sleep more, all of which contributes to weight gain.
When considering all the safety factors associated with marijuana use, it’s important to weigh these factors against the harm being done by wasting. What may sound harmful to a healthy person may seem irrelevant to another when compared to the alternatives they face.
Marijuana has been shown to be an effective treatment for general pain associated with illness or serious injury. As with nausea, how marijuana relieves mild pain is not known. New studies suggest that marijuana may have anti-inflammatory effects.
Research comparing the effects of tobacco and marijuana smoking on the lungs shows that marijuana smoke can be harmful. Smoking marijuana increases the risks of lung complications, may worsen asthma and may increase the risk of lung cancer over and above smoking tobacco.
Introduction Buyers Clubs and the Law Safety Concerns Immune Function Lung Complications Impact on Hormones Impact on Mental Status Impact on Appetite Oral THC vs. Marijuana Other
Regardless of production hurdles, the beauty of this kind of bioengineering is that it gives researchers a powerful platform to dig into not just what each cannabinoid might be useful for—whether treating anxiety or inflammation or epilepsy—but how the many cannabinoids in the plant might interact with one another. This is known as the entourage effect: CBD, for instance, seems to attenuate the psychoactive effects of THC.
The eventual goal is to be able to tailor cannabis products, such as tinctures, to a consumer’s preferences. This would allow for a customized ratio of CBD to THC, and eventually other cannabinoids and terpenes, which themselves may play a role in the entourage effect. The terpene linalool, for example, may have anti-anxiety effects.
By selectively churning out these cannabinoids in the lab, it’ll be easier for researchers to play with them in isolation and with each other, without having to wade through hundreds of other compounds you’d find in pure flower. “Ultimately, a molecule is a molecule,” says Raber. Indeed, cannabinoids made from yeast are the same cannabinoids the plant makes. “It gives flexibility in formulation, it gives broader utility perhaps, and it may eventually scale faster than plants. Regulators might feel a lot better about these types of approaches than those that are fields and fields and fields of plant material.”
For cannabinoids, the key benefit is scale. The idea is that you could crank out vast amounts of CBD in vats far more easily than by planting greenhouse after greenhouse of cannabis plants. (Which is not to say some folks won’t still appreciate their cannabis grown the old fashioned way.) But to make it as efficient as possible, you’d need to work with the highest possible concentrations of cannabinoids. That is, you’d want optimize your yeast to churn out a whole lot of product.
Engineered yeast have been used to tackle the scarcity problem in other ways before. In the 1960s, researchers discovered that the taxanes from Pacific yew tree bark can fight cancer. All well and good, except for the Pacific yew, which conservationists feared would go extinct in the hands of an eager medical establishment. But as with this cannabinoid-producing yeast, researchers engineered microbes to help make the drug—deforestation-free.
The reason researchers and cannabis companies are interested in alternative ways of producing cannabinoids is that working with the original plant is messy and complicated. First of all, growing the stuff takes a lot of time, water, and energy (if you’re cultivating indoors). Extracting certain cannabinoids from flower is also a hassle. If you’re only after CBD, for example, there’s a chance your extract could be contaminated with THC. This is of particular concern if you want to isolate CBD for use as a medicine—it’s been shown, for instance, to be remarkably effective in treating epilepsy.
Having a vat of yeast churning out pure, non-psychoactive CBD promises to massively simplify production. “Being able to produce that in a way that’s uncontaminated with THC is a pretty valuable thing,” says Keasling. Especially since the FDA might want to have a word with you if you accidentally dose patients with a psychoactive substance.
Now researchers have turned to yeast to do something more improbable: manufacturing the cannabis compounds CBD and THC. By loading brewer’s yeast with genes from the cannabis plant, they’ve turned the miracle microbes into cannabinoid factories. It’s a clever scheme in a larger movement to methodically pick apart and recreate marijuana’s many compounds, to better understand the plant’s true potential.
We as a species would be miserable without yeast. Baker’s yeast has given us leavened bread for thousands of years. And I don’t even want to begin to imagine a world without beer and wine, which rely on yeast to convert sugar into alcohol.
Yeast gives us beer and bread. Now researchers have engineered it to do something more improbable: manufacturing the cannabis compounds CBD and THC.