Cocaine users could be at an increased risk for acquiring HIV because the drug apparently stimulates certain immune system cells that increase a person's vulnerability to the virus. Cocaine also appears to "fuel" the spread of the virus from cell to cell. This according to new research published in the October issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, conducted by scientists at the University of California Los Angeles and reported by CBS News.
The researchers separated inactive, or "quiescent," CD4 T-cells from healthy adults and then put them in an environment with cocaine. Researchers then infected the cells with HIV. They compared the rate and mechanism of the HIV infection in the cocaine-affected cells to CD4 T-cells that were exposed to HIV, but not the drug. After three days, they discovered that cocaine made it easier for T-cells to be infected with HIV.
John Wherry, deputy editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, said to Medscape that other studies have linked cocaine with a higher risk of contracting HIV. This study was unique because it was able to find a specific cell type that is typically not infected by HIV and show how cocaine weakened it.
"Patients with histories of substance of abuse, particularly cocaine, may need to be watched a little bit more carefully (because) their overall decline in CD4 cell counts might happen either faster or might happen in a way that actually predisposes to the development of AIDS at perhaps a higher CD4 count than others," Wherry said.
The findings are limited by the fact that the research was not conducted in humans and also because typical cocaine users partake of the drug over a more extended period of time than three days. Among their plans for future research is an investigation into whether cocaine leads to a higher viral reservoir.
It's also worth noting that cocaine and other drug/alcohol use typically lowers a persons inhibitions and makes them much more likely to practice unsafe sex. If this new research is proven true, the combination of the lowered inhibitions and weakened immune system/faster viral delivery could fuel many seroconversions. To be continued ...