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Medical Marijuana and HIV/AIDS

marijuana and hiv aids

If you’re not sure where to turn after being diagnosed with HIV or AIDS or are wondering about your treatment options, we can help. Your symptoms may include weight loss, loss of appetite, and peripheral neuropathy. The side effects of the medications may include nausea, vomiting, anxiety and trouble sleeping, and they lead many patients to research the effectiveness of medical marijuana for HIV/AIDS. Understanding how medical cannabis for HIV/AIDS works will help you determine if it’s a suitable treatment option for you or a loved one.

According to the World Health Organization, over 500,000 Americans have died from HIV/AIDS, and over one million US citizens are living with the disease. It is a chronic, life-threatening condition that is one of the most commonly cited reasons cannabis patients get medical marijuana. In fact, each medical marijuana state includes HIV/AIDS as a qualifying medical condition.

Patients living with HIV typically take antiretroviral drugs to prolong the onset of AIDS. But side effects of antiretroviral therapy—which include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and severe pain in the nerve endings (polyneuropathies)—are often unbearable. Other side effects of HIV/AIDS include wasting syndrome or cachexia and intractable pain. Many patients use medical marijuana to help manage their symptoms. According to 2005 study published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, more than 60% of HIV patients use cannabis as a medicine.

cannabis for hiv
Medical Marijuana is widely recognized as an effective treatment for symptoms of HIV/AIDS and the side effects related to the antiretroviral therapies that constitute the first line of treatment for HIV/AIDS. Its value as an anti-emetic (stops vomiting) and analgesic (relieves pain) has been proven in numerous studies and has been recognized by several government-sponsored reviews.

Medical marijuana for HIV/AIDS can help alleviate uncomfortable symptoms you may be experiencing from either the condition or its treatment.

What Is HIV/AIDS?

When people talk about HIV/AIDS, they’re discussing two separate yet interconnected conditions.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. When left undiagnosed and untreated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Your body can fight certain viruses. However, it’s currently impossible for you to completely eliminate HIV from your system, which means that once you’ve contracted the virus, it’s with you for life.

HIV assaults your immune system, specifically your CD4 cells (T-cells), which are the cells that aid your body to fight infection. When the virus is left undiagnosed or untreated, you’re more susceptible to picking up infections or infection-related cancers. Given time, HIV can destroy so many of these good cells that your body can no longer ward off disease and infections. When this happens, you have AIDS, which is the final stage of HIV infection.

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

Although AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection, not everyone with the HIV advances to AIDS. AIDS occurs when your immune system is so severely damaged that opportunistic infections occur. When your immune system is healthy, you can be exposed to many different types of parasites, bacteria and viruses with no ill effects.

When you’re living with HIV/AIDS, the parasites, bacteria and viruses can pose serious threats to your health. Opportunistic infections take advantage of your weakened immunity and can cause devastating illnesses.

Medically speaking, AIDS occurs when your number of CD4 cells drops to less than 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood. Your doctor can give you an AIDS diagnosis if you develop at least one opportunistic infection, no matter your CD4 count.

The History of HIV/AIDS

Studies have shown that a Central African chimpanzee is the source of HIV in humans. It’s believed that the chimpanzee strain of the virus, known as simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), was most likely transmitted to people where it then mutated into the human version as a result of people hunting the animals for meat and encountering infected blood. It’s thought that this could have happened as far back as the late 1800s.

Through the years, HIV spread throughout Africa and reached the U.S. in the mid to late ‘70s.

Symptoms of HIV by Stage

If you feel you could have HIV, it’s imperative to get tested as soon as possible. Symptoms of HIV vary depending on the disease stage.

Early-Stage HIV

Some people suffer from a flu-like illness within a few weeks to a month of first being infected. Others have no symptoms at all. Flu-type symptoms may include:

  • Mouth ulcers
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches
  • Rash
  • Chills
  • Night sweats
  • Fever

The symptoms above can last from a few days to many weeks. Throughout this stage, an HIV test may not show as positive. However, you’re highly infectious and can spread the illness to others. Also, some HIV-positive individuals don’t have any symptoms for as long as a decade or more.

Clinical-Latency Stage

The next stage of HIV is the clinical latency stage, also known as chronic HIV infection. At this point, the virus continues to be active, but reproduces at low levels. When you have chronic HIV, you might only have mild symptoms or possibly none at all.

If you’re taking antiretroviral therapy (ART), the clinical-latency period can last ten years or more, or it can move forward more rapidly. You can transmit HIV during this phase, no matter how well you are. However, if you’re on ART, you’re less likely to give others the virus than people who are not virally suppressed.

AIDS

If you have HIV and aren’t on antiretroviral therapy, the next stage is AIDS. Symptoms of AIDS may include:

  • Profuse night sweats
  • Recurring fever
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained and extreme tiredness
  • Diarrhea lasting more than a week
  • Prolonged lymph gland swelling in the neck, groin or armpits
  • Sores on the genitals, anus or mouth
  • Purplish, brown or red blotches on or under the skin of your eyelids nose and mouth
  • Neurological disorders
  • Depression
  • Memory loss

If you want to know for sure you have HIV or AIDS, the only way to find out is to get tested.

Effects of HIV/AIDS

When caught and managed early, people with HIV/AIDS can lead relatively normal lives. Dealing with the condition can be frightening and lonely. Luckily, there’s plenty of support available if you need help. Complementary therapies can often provide relief, and there’s possibly a respite from symptoms. Talk to a marijuana doctor about what medical cannabis for HIV/AIDS can do for you. 

HIV/AIDS Statistics

According to information from AIDS.gov, a site provided and managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

hiv stats

  • One in seven people living with HIV is unaware they have it.
  • Bisexual and gay men of all races are the most affected by HIV.
  • Heterosexual people accounted for 24 percent of all HIV diagnoses in 2015.
  • Six percent of new cases were attributed to injection drug use in 2015.
  • More than 1.2 million people in America are living with HIV.
hiv diagnosis

Although these statistics are very sobering and show that people from all walks of life are at risk, the good news is that between 2005 and 2014, there was a 19 percent decline in the yearly number of new HIV diagnosis.

Current Treatments for HIV/AIDS

Once diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, people seek treatment.

HIV Treatment

HIV can be controlled with correct care and treatment. Your doctor will prescribe you antiretroviral therapy. If you’re diagnosed early and treated before the virus has time to advance and you remain on treatment, you can live a long life.

Nowadays, people are living full lives with the help of HIV medicines. The five main types are:

  • Protease inhibitors. These interfere with a protein used by the virus to create new infectious viral particles.
  • Reverse transcriptase (RT) inhibitors. These stop the virus from creating copies of itself.
  • Integrase inhibitors. These block an enzyme the virus relies on to make copies of itself.
  • Fusion inhibitors. These stop the virus from entering the cells of the body.
  • Multidrug combinations. The term for a combination of different drugs rolled into one.

Side Effects of HIV Treatment

Although many conventional drugs show results, they often cause significant nausea, which then exacerbates the weight loss and loss of appetite already associated with the condition. Over time, nausea, loss of appetite and weight loss can lead to AIDS wasting syndrome, one of the leading causes of AIDS deaths.

Antiretrovirals also have potential side effects, such as severe nerve ending pain, trouble sleeping, vomiting, depression, mood changes and anxiety. Medical marijuana can help reduce and manage these symptoms.

Failure or Lack of Conventional Treatment

An unfortunate issue that sometimes occurs in HIV-positive patients is that the virus mutates and produces variations of itself. The virus can then become drug resistant, so conventional treatments will fail.

When HIV progresses without treatment, and you develop AIDS, the median survival rate is three years. This statistic drops to one year if you’re suffering from an AIDS-related opportunistic illness. Therefore, it’s imperative to seek treatment as early as possible.

Why Marijuana 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, if you take cannabis alongside your HIV/AIDS treatment, you’re 3.3 times likelier to be able to continue with your conventional treatment.

marijuana treatment hiv

Marijuana/cannabis for HIV/AIDS seems to eliminate nausea, vomiting and appetite loss associated with HIV/ADS treatment. In turn, this allows you to stop losing weight while getting enough essential nutrients to support your body. Pot also targets the neuropathic pain you feel when undergoing drug therapy.

Additionally, recent research has shown that when you take marijuana, it inhibits the inflammation of the brain that’s associated with HIV/AIDS, as it stops the virus from attaching to your cells. It’s also been proven that cannabis can inhibit the virus replicating within your body.

According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM),"For patients such as those with AIDS or who are undergoing chemotherapy and who suffer simultaneously from severe pain, nausea, and appetite loss, cannabinoid drugs might 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 four times daily experienced "substantial ... increases in food intake ... with little evidence of discomfort and no impairment of cognitive performance." They concluded, "Smoked marijuana ... has a clear medical benefit in HIV-positive [subjects]."

In 2008, researchers at the University of California at San Diego concluded that cannabis “significantly reduced neuropathic pain intensity in HIV-associated … polyneuropathy compared to placebo when added to stable concomitant analgesics. … Mood disturbance, physical disability, and quality of life all improved significantly during study treatment.  … Our findings suggest that cannabinoid therapy may be an effective option for pain relief in patients with medically intractable pain due to HIV.”

Taking the above into consideration, medical marijuana is a positive and useful addition to your HIV/AIDS treatment.

What HIV/AIDS Symptoms Can Medical Marijuana Treat

There is a positive connection between marijuana/cannabis and HIV/AIDS. As the studies mentioned above have shown, it’s effective at treating many of the symptoms associated with the condition itself, as well as the side effects of antiretroviral therapy.

Medical cannabis is useful for:

  • Reducing peripheral neuropathy. A common form of pain that’s associated with HIV/AIDS is peripheral neuropathy, which occurs when the nerves outside your spinal cord and brain become damaged. This leads to impaired coordination, pain, muscle loss, paresthesia (a pricking or burning feeling that’s most commonly experienced in your arms, legs, hands or feet) and pain. A study found that 67 of 450 peripheral neuropathy sufferers felt that cannabis improved their symptoms. A 2005 survey of 143 HIV-positive respondents found that 90 percent of those patients reported improvement in their nerve pain.
  • Reducing pain. HIV/AIDS causes debilitating and severe pain. Taking cannabis can significantly mitigate this pain. The 2005 survey of more than 140 HIV-positive respondents noted above revealed that 94 percent of the patients received muscle pain relief as a result of using cannabis.
  • Improving mood and depression. Medicinal pot is known for elevating your mood. In the 2005 survey noted above, 86 percent and 93 percent reported improvements in their depression and anxiety, respectively, by using cannabis. Therefore, if you suffer from illness-related depression, it could go a long way toward helping you.
  • Thwarting nausea. There have been many anecdotal accounts of cannabis working well to treat feelings of nausea in HIV/AIDS patients. A study into the efficacy of Dronabinol, a man-made form of cannabis, found that patients had an average 20 percent improvement in their feelings of nausea. Ninety-three percent of the 2005 survey HIV-positive respondents indicated that they experienced nausea relief from medical marijuana.
  • Stimulating appetite. The 2005 study found that 97 percent of the 523 HIV-positive individuals surveyed found that taking pot improved their appetite. Maintaining a good calorific intake is crucial to fighting illness, so this figure is particularly promising.

Best Strains of Marijuana

There are numerous strains of medical pot that can give relief to you if you’re coping with HIV/AIDS. Perhaps the best way of ascertaining what will work best for you is to search for a dispensary and speak with a knowledgeable budtender.

The following strains are often used in the management of symptoms of the disease:

  • Blue Diamond. Your local dispensary staff may recommend this strain to treat pain and depression. As it’s a 50 percent Sativa strain, it's an excellent choice for both daytime and evening use. The Blue Diamond strain gives you a mental boost and doesn’t leave you feeling knocked out or exhausted.
  • Big Wreck. If you’re having trouble sleeping, Big Wreck might help. It is 70/30 Indica dominant. Best taken at night, the Big Wreck strain puts you into a relaxed and comfortable state of mind. It’s also very palatable with its blueberry, cherry and orange notes.
  • Critical Sensi Star. Since it is an Indica strain,Critical Sensi Star is a strong sedative, so it is best taken when you don’t have plans for the day ahead. It also boasts pain killing effects and is very useful if you’re suffering from nausea and sickness.
  • Diamond OG. This strain may help if you’re experiencing substantial pain and discomfort. Diamond OG also treats the symptoms of stress, so it makes you feeling happier, less sore and more positive in general.

Keep in mind that dosages involve a significant element of trial and error — what works for someone else may not necessarily work for you. Regardless, there will likely be a strain available that brings you some relief.

Best Methods of Marijuana to Use

When you inhale cannabis, via vaporizing or smoking, your dosing is flexible, and you'll feel the benefits within minutes. If you ingest weed by mouth, you could be waiting for hours to feel the effects.

If you’re a first-time user of medical marijuana, vaporizing or smoking is probably your best avenue because you can quickly experience the effects. Once you’ve discovered the right dosage, you can then begin to experiment with taking pot orally, perhaps in the form of cookies or brownies.

Search for an HIV/AIDS Medical Marijuana Doctor or Dispensary

If you suffer from HIV/AIDS and/or the side effects from HIV/AIDs treatments and are looking to find relief through medical marijuana, MarijuanaDoctors.com can help. The next step is to search for a medical marijuana doctor or dispensary today. We can connect you with hundreds of quality marijuana doctors across the country in all legal marijuana states and ensure you are in compliance with your state laws. Book an appointment today and let us help improve your quality of life!

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This information is not provided by medical professionals and is intended only to complement, and not to replace or contradict, any health or medical advice or information provided by healthcare professionals.  If you have any questions, please contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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