Study: Cannabis use makes hunter-gatherers resistant to parasites

By Oscar Pascual |

Researchers have found yet another illness than can be treated with marijuana: parasitic infections.

Anthropologists from Washington State University recently conducted a study on the African Congo’s Aka population — one of the world’s last groups of hunter-gatherers — to observe how people unaffected by Western culture and media influence might use cannabis for its medicinal qualities.

They found that nearly 70 percent of the Aka people smoked marijuana, but only in a recreational manner.

The Aka were also analyzed by the presence of parasites, such as roundworms or hookworms, and found that 95 percent of all men were in fact infected with parasites.

However, researchers also found that of all the men carrying parasites, cannabis users had a significantly lower rate of infection. Even one year after the Aka men were administered an antihelmintic, cannabis users were less prone to reinfection.

“Worm burden was significantly negatively correlated with THCA,” the researchers wrote. “Which is consistent with the chemotherapeutic hypothesis of drug use.”

But the Aka insist they smoke marijuana only for recreational purposes. For medicine, they instead turn to a local plant, motunga, as a tea to fight infectious parasites.

Researchers say that the Aka’s recreational pot use is evident that human craving for certain substances could be biological rather than for pleasure.

“In the same way we have a taste for salt, we might have a taste for psychoactive plant toxins, because these things kill parasites,” said Ed Hagen, co-author on the study, in a press release.

The research suggests that humans could possibly be drawn to certain plants for their health benefits without even knowing it.

“Although the conventional view is that drug abuse impairs immunity, thus increasing susceptibility to infection , if recreational drug use is explained (at least in part) by the drugs’ antiparasitic properties, this would suggest that the immune system plays a key role in regulating drug use,” the authors write in the study.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons