From the earliest days of the HIV epidemic, cannabis has been used to treat many of the complications of the disease, ranging from the symptoms of HIV wasting syndrome to side effects associated with antiretroviral drug use.
While newer drugs have greatly reduced the severity of side effects, cannabis is still embraced as a means to alleviate the pain, nausea, weight loss, and depression that can accompany infection. There have even been suggestions that cannabis may afford long-term benefits by effectively slowing progression of the disease.
So what are the facts?
What is HIV/AIDS?
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
HIV assaults the immune system, specifically CD4 cells (T-cells), which are the cells that aid in the body’s ability to fight infection. When the virus is left undiagnosed or untreated, the body becomes more susceptible to picking up infections or infection-related cancers. Given time, HIV destroys so many cells that the body can no longer ward off disease and infection. When this happens, HIV has moved into its final stage: AIDS.
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
Although AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection, not everyone with HIV advances to AIDS. AIDS occurs when your immune system is so severely damaged that opportunistic infections occur.
Medically speaking, AIDS occurs when the number of CD4 cells drops to less than 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood.
Why Cannabis is an Effective Treatment
As many as a third of HIV/AIDS sufferers experience uncompromising pain due to their antiretroviral therapy. Other side effects include weight loss, appetite loss, vomiting, and nausea. These problems can be so harsh that some patients may abandon their treatment entirely.
According to information from the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, patients who use cannabis alongside HIV/AIDS treatment are 3.3 times more likely to continue conventional treatment.
By reducing nausea and vomiting and increasing appetite, cannabis allows those going through HIV/AIDS treatment to stop losing weight while getting enough essential nutrients to support the body. Additionally, recent research has shown that cannabis inhibits inflammation of the brain associated with HIV/AIDS, as it stops the virus from attaching to cells.
According to the Institute of Medicine, “cannabinoids may offer broad-spectrum relief not found in any other single medication”.
Columbia University published clinical trial data in 2007 reporting that HIV/AIDS patients who inhaled cannabis at least four times daily experienced “substantial increase in food intake with little evidence of discomfort and no impairment of cognitive performance”.
In 2008, researchers at the University of California at San Diego concluded that cannabis “significantly reduces neuropathic pain intensity in HIV patients”. They also found that mood disturbances, physical disability, and quality of life all improved significantly during the study.
Using Cannabis for HIV/AIDS Care
As we know, it’s not about the strain name but rather the compounds that make up that strain.
- Anti-Inflammation: THC, CBD, CBG, CBC, CBN
- Analgesic: THC, CBD, CBG, CBC, THCV, CBN
- Appetite Stimulation: THC
- Antiemetic: THC, CBD
Almost all terpenes contain anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, but the most notable are: pinene, limonene, myrcene, linalool, bisabolol, caryophyllene, terpinolene
- Over 500,000 Americans have died from HIV/AIDS, and over one million US citizens are living with the disease
- More than 60% of HIV patients use cannabis as a medicine
- One in seven people living with HIV are unaware that they have it
- 6% of new cases are attributed to intravenous drug use
- Heterosexual people account for 24% of all diagnoses
- Bisexual and gay men of all races are the most affected by HIV