Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology

, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 280–295 | Cite as

Drugs of Abuse, Immune Modulation, and AIDS

Invited Review


Illicit drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, and opiates alter immune function and decrease host resistance to microbes in vitro and in experimental animal models. Effects on the immune system may be mediated indirectly as a result of drug interactions in the central nervous system (CNS) or directly through activation of cognate receptors on various immune cell types. For marijuana and opioids, seven-transmembranal G protein-coupled receptors have been identified in the CNS and in the immune system that may play a functionally relevant role in immune modulation. There is accumulating evidence that sigma1 receptors play a comparable role in cocaine-mediated alteration of immune responses. A mode by which these exogenously introduced substances affects immunity and host resistance may be by perturbing the balance of Th1 proinflammatory versus Th2 anti-inflammatory cytokines and lipid bioeffectors. However, while illicit drugs have been documented to alter immune functions in vitro and in animal models, there is a paucity of controlled longitudinal epidemiological studies that definitively correlate immunosuppressive effects with increased incidence of infections or immune disorders in humans, including infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or disease progression to AIDS.

Key words

AIDS amphetamines cannabinoids cocaine cocaethylene drugs of abuse HIV illicit drugs immunity infections ketamine marijuana methadone methamphetamine morphine opioids 



This study was supported in part by DA05832 and DA15608 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).


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© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Microbiology and ImmunologyVirginia Commonwealth University, School of MedicineRichmondUSA

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