How Medical Marijuana Manages Antiretroviral Therapy Symptoms

Updated on January 31, 2019.  Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

How Medical Marijuana Manages Antiretroviral Therapy Symptoms

More than 1 million people in the U.S. live with HIV/AIDS. While there’s no known cure, doctors prescribe HIV/AIDS patients with antiretroviral therapy to help them manage their symptoms.

However, antiretroviral drugs can cause many side effects that are difficult to deal with, including severe pain and nausea. It’s no wonder more than 60% of HIV patients use marijuana to treat their illness.

They use cannabis for good reason. It’s practically tailor-made for the symptoms caused by HIV/AIDS and its treatments. We’ve broken it down for you symptom-by-symptom to explain how marijuana can help you’re your antiretroviral side effects.


The cannabinoids in marijuana have proven to be so effective for nausea that the FDA approves two medicines with synthetic cannabinoids for nausea. It’s also a commonly approved condition under state medical marijuana laws.

In addition, medical cannabis stimulates the appetite to help you get the nutrients you need. Since chronic vomiting can make it hard to keep food down and ruin your appetite, the “munchies” you get from weed can motivate you to eat more.


Another antiretroviral side effect cannabis can treat is the difficulty sleeping. Whether your insomnia results from other antiretroviral side effects or appears as its own symptom, cannabis can help you get a good night’s rest.

Keep in mind some strains can sedate you more effectively than others. Indica strains tend to relax you and make you tired, as opposed to sativa strains, which energize you and keep you up.


Marijuana can relieve headaches caused by your retroviral therapy. It reduces the inflammation that causes headaches by suppressing the chemicals in your brain related to your immune responses. Cannabis also affects other chemicals to tackle any other potential sources of your headaches.

In fact, if your headaches affect you to the point of manifesting as migraines, marijuana has the potency to soothe those symptoms. Studies indicate cannabis can decrease the frequency of migraines and headaches to boost your ability to get through the day.


Marijuana invigorates patients experiencing fatigue from their HIV or antiretrovirals.

This might confuse you — after all, didn’t we just say that marijuana makes you sleepy? Well, marijuana is an incredibly versatile medicine. If you choose a certain strain, you can feel stimulated and energized instead of sleepy and relaxed.

If you need to take your medicine during the day, the energizing properties of some strains can prevent you from feeling drowsy at work or school. When you need to relieve your symptoms without feeling sluggish all day, marijuana strains with a zip can do the trick.

Severe Pain

Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons patients use medical marijuana. It’s also considered a valid condition under most legal states’ medical cannabis laws.

Consider yourself in good hands when you use marijuana to treat pain symptoms from your antiretroviral drugs. It addresses many potential roots of your pain to cover all your bases.

Managing Your Antiretroviral Meds and Medical Marijuana

When you take antiretroviral medication, you must take care when adjusting your dosage. Don’t try to change the frequency or amount you’re taking — or stop taking them altogether — without talking with your doctor first. HIV that goes untreated can quickly develop into AIDS.

Additionally, as your HIV mutates, it can develop resistance to your medicine. If your symptoms get worse, ask for drug-resistance testing to determine if you need to change medicines. Taking your medicine exactly as prescribed reduces the chance of this happening.

While medical marijuana makes a great supplement for your antiretroviral regimen, it can’t completely replace it. In fact, marijuana can further suppress your immune system, so cannabis alone can exacerbate your HIV problems.

If you have questions, talk with your doctor — they’ll know how to best manage your treatment plan.

Discover More About Medical Marijuana

At, we provide numerous resources to give people interested in medical cannabis the knowledge they need. Get started by checking your state’s marijuana laws. Then, check out our database of weed-positive doctors and directory of cannabis dispensaries.

Information on Medical Marijuana & HIV/AIDS