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FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 2006 Aug;47(3):330-42.

Addictive drugs and their relationship with infectious diseases.

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  • 1Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, University of South Florida College of Medicine, Tampa, FL 33612-4799, USA.


The use of drugs of abuse, both recreationally and medicinally, may be related to serious public health concerns. There is a relationship between addictive drugs of abuse such as alcohol and nicotine in cigarette smoke, as well as illegal drugs such as opiates, cocaine and marijuana, and increased susceptibility to infections. The nature and mechanisms of immunomodulation induced by such drugs of abuse are described in this review. The effects of opiates and marijuana, using animal models as well as in vitro studies with immune cells from experimental animals and humans, have shown that immunomodulation induced by these drugs is mainly receptor-mediated, either directly by interaction with specific receptors on immune cells or indirectly by reaction with similar receptors on cells of the nervous system. Similar studies also show that cocaine and nicotine have marked immunomodulatory effects, which are mainly receptor-mediated. Both cocaine, an illegal drug, and nicotine, a widely used legal addictive component of cigarettes, are markedly immunomodulatory and increase susceptibility to infection. The nature and mechanism of immunomodulation induced by alcohol, the most widely used addictive substance of abuse, are similar but immunomodulatory effects, although not receptor-mediated. The many research studies on the effects of these drugs on immunity and increased susceptibility to infectious diseases, including AIDS, are providing a better understanding of the complex interactions between immunity, infections and substance abuse.

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