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Marijuana Myths, Claim No. 5

CLAIM #5:

MARIJUANA IMPAIRS IMMUNE SYSTEM FUNCTIONING

It has been widely claimed that marijuana substantially increases users' risk of contracting various infectious diseases. First emerging in the 1970s, this claim took on new significance in the 1980s, following reports of marijuana use by people suffering from AIDS.

THE FACTS

The principal study fueling the original claim of immune impairment involved preparations created with white blood cells that had been removed from marijuana smokers and controls. After exposing the cells to known immune activators, researchers reported a lower rate of "transformation" in those taken from marijuana smokers. 26

However, numerous groups of scientists, using similar techniques, have failed to confirm this original study. 27

In fact, a 1988 study demonstrated an increase in responsiveness when white blood cells from marijuana smokers were exposed to immunological activators. 28

Studies involving laboratory animals have shown immune impairment following administration of THC, but only with the use of extremely high doses. For example, one study demonstrated an increase in herpes infection in rodents given doses of 100 mg/kg/day - a dose approximately 1000 times the dose necessary to produce a psychoactive effect in humans. 29

There have been no clinical or epidemiological studies showing an increase in bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection among human marijuana users. In three large field studies conducted in the 1970s, in Jamaica, Costa Rica and Greece, researchers found no differences in disease susceptibility between marijuana users and matched controls. 30

Marijuana use does not increase the risk of HIV infection; nor does it increase the onset or intensity of symptoms among AIDS patients. 31 In fact, the FDA decision to approve the use of Marinol (synthetic THC) for use in HIV-wasting syndrome relied upon the absence of any immunopathology due to THC. 32

Today, thousands of people with AIDS are smoking marijuana daily to combat nausea and increase appetite. There is no scientific basis for claims that this practice compromises their immune responses. Indeed, the recent discovery of a peripheral cannabinoid receptor associated with lymphatic tissue should encourage aggressive exploration of THC's potential use as an immune-system stimulant. 33

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