Crystal Meth Use Accelerates HIV Even With Medication, Study Shows

Many have long assumed use of stimulants like crystal methamphetamine can accelerate HIV progression. Thanks to a new study published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity there is scientific evidence to back that up. 

Adam Carrico, Ph. D., associate professor of Public Health Sciences and Psychology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, was lead author on the study, "Recent Stimulant Use and Leukocyte Gene Expression in Methamphetamine Users with Treated HIV Infection."

"Stimulant use may accelerate HIV disease progression through biological and behavioral pathways," says Carrico. "But if we can identify the biological pathways, then we can develop new approaches to optimize the health of active stimulant users who are living with HIV."

The study was a collaboration between researchers at the University of California San Francisco, University of California Los Angeles, and New York University, and involved studying changes in gene expression of samples from 55 HIV-positive, meth-using men receiving effective anti-retroviral therapy.

"We found a differential expression of 32 genes and perturbation of 168 pathways in recent stimulant users, including genes previously associated with the HIV reservoir, immune activation, and inflammation," says Carrico. "Anti-retroviral therapy is often successful in suppressing HIV in the blood, however, the virus typically remains in reservoirs, such as the lymph nodes and inside some immune cells."

Carrico believes these findings could be helpful in finding a cure for the virus. “Maybe these pathways can help us to understand how we can ‘wake up’ the virus and pull it out of hiding; some of these pathways could become targets for potential biomedical treatments targeting the HIV reservoir,” he says.

"We are now testing behavioral interventions in San Francisco and Miami that are designed to reduce stimulant use in people living with HIV," Carrico says. "Hopefully, decreasing the use of stimulants like methamphetamine will allow for better control of the HIV viral load and could even directly improve the immune system."

For further information, check out this press release about the study:  https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-05/uomm-urf050418.php