SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A controversial study by AIDS activists of a Chinese herbal treatment has produced promising early signs of stopping the AIDS virus's lethal destruction of blood cells, its organizer said Friday.

The treatment, called compound Q, is being tested by a community group outside the usual control of medical schools and hospitals that ordinarily evaluate new medicines.

''At this stage, we have seen a major and dramatic change in what happens to these patients,'' said Martin Delaney.

Delaney, director of San Francisco's Project Inform, said his group wanted to speed up the time-consuming process of figuring out whether potential AIDS drugs work.

However, some experts said the group's data is of limited value in assessing compound Q, and one prominent physician called Delaney irresponsible for releasing his conclusion without providing data to back it up.

Delaney described his group's work at the Sixth International Conference on AIDS.

Compound Q, a protein derived from an herbal plant root, is also being tested by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. But doctors there said it's too soon to say whether the treatment is worthwhile.

Dr. James Kahn, who is conducting that study, said Delaney's work ''doesn't invite scientific scrutiny, but it helps us focus on what's important.''

Kahn also cautioned that compound Q can have toxic, even fatal, side effects. ''This is a very dangerous drug,'' he said.

In their experiment, Project Inform has tested compound Q on 46 patients for 116 days. Before the treatment, their helper T cells - the primary target of the AIDS virus - had been steadily declining. But after treatment, the loss stopped or even reversed itself in 38 of them.

Delaney cautioned that his work does not prove that compound Q will be an effective AIDS drug, but he said, ''We don't see anything like this with AZT,'' the only AIDS drug now approved for routine use.

He did not reveal basic information about the study, such as other drugs the patients were taking, how sick they were or how they were recruited.

''You are irresponsible in making such statements without providing your data,'' said Dr. Arnold Relman, editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. ''We don't know if this is just another flash in the pan or something great.''

Dr. Dan Hoth, director of the Division on AIDS at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he did not consider Delaney to be irresponsible. But he said he worried about what sick people would make of his conclusions.

''I fear that patients, because they are so desperate, will grasp at this,'' he said. ''We simply don't know. We haven't reviewed it.''

Joel Thomas, a patient taking compound Q, said he thought the medicine had made a dramatic difference for him.

''It has literally turned my health around,'' Thomas said. ''There is a clear regression of the disease.''

Compound Q appears to work by attacking infected macrophages. These blood cells, which eat germs and debris in the bloodstream, become virus-making factories when they are invaded by HIV, the AIDs virus.