HIV & Medical Marijuana

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Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, became known in the early 1980’s, when it spread so rapidly it was considered a pandemic. To this day, HIV remains prevalent in our society, although at much lower rates and with less drastic outcomes, if treated early. Over the past few decades, HIV prevention, education, and treatment have evolved so that it is much more manageable, it is still ever present throughout not only the United States, but throughout the world. As of 2019, there are 37.9 million people globally living with HIV, and some of the most influential people in history such as Freddie Mercury, Keith Haring, Eazy-E, and Magic Johnson are some of the most famous individuals personally affected by HIV. It’s even become a focal piece for artistic narrative, such as the musical Rent and the play Angels in America. As previously mentioned, there are a lot of educational and precautionary measures we know are available related to HIV, as well as widespread testing and antivirals that can help make it manageable. In addition to that, in Pennsylvania HIV is a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

About HIV

HIV is a spectrum of conditions caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus. HIV weakens an individual’s immune system by destroying the cells that fight disease and infection (T cells). HIV is carried in blood, semen, vaginal and rectal fluids, and breast milk. Generally, HIV is known to be spread through sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, oral), needle sharing, blood transfusions,  and pregnancy delivery or breastfeeding. 

It is VERY important to know that HIV cannot be contracted through air, water, or casual contact. It cannot be spread through sharing food or drinks, hugging and kissing, holding hands, saliva, using the same toilet seat or bed sheets, or through mosquitos. Misconceptions about the spread of HIV have lead to harmful stigmas and can be isolating to individuals who have it, and because of it’s presence in the LGBTQ community (especially in the beginning of the pandemic) has caused a great deal of homophobia to surround it, as well as discrimation to those who suffer from heroin addictions, as well as any other individuals who have it. HIV is serious, but as with any other illness, it is important that those who suffer from HIV have a strong support system and are treated with the same dignity and respect as any other person.

Some symptoms of HIV include fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, rash, and diarrhea, however HIV can sometimes have very mild, unnoticeable symptoms (even appearing asymptomatic), which is why regular testing is so important. Left untreated, HIV can cause pneumonia, shingles, and eventually progress to AIDS. Though AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV, though just because an individual has HIV does not mean they will develop AIDS, as many patients with HIV can live their whole lives without their HIV ever developing into AIDS.

HIV testing is pretty widely available across the US, and though there is no cure for HIV, there are a number of medications a patient can take to reduce the possibility of complications and keep it manageable. Though medical marijuana is not considered to be an appropriate substitute for HIV medications, it has the potential to be very helpful for patient’s symptom management.

How Can Marijuana Help

What is known as HIV wasting syndrome (fever, weakness, weight loss, malnutrition, and diarrhea), was actually a catalyst for the medical marijuana movement, as many HIV/AIDS patients in the early years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic found marijuana to be a great source of relief for their symptoms. With so few helpful treatment options, AIDS activists took up the medical marijuana cause. 

Many of the medications available for patients with HIV can cause nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Because THC has both anti-nausea and vomiting properties as well as being an appetite stimulant, it has the potential to be a great help to patients with HIV who are experiencing such symptoms. For many, orally ingested marijuana products may specifically be a good option for this kind of treatment.

A lot of patients with HIV also suffer from HIV related pain and neuropathies. High-THC marijuana strains, as well as strains with CBD and myrcene, have demonstrated a great deal of potential in helping patients by reducing their perceived intensity of pain and their neuropathies. The quick onset of relief that comes from inhaled marijuana products has a lot of potential in helping patients looking for this sort of relief. 

For those interested in considering medical marijuana as part of their HIV treatment, be sure to speak with your doctor first. Medical consultation before any new form of treatment is always advised, and doctors will have an understanding of how medical marijuana can potentially interact with any other HIV-related medications. As previously stated, individuals with HIV deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as any other person, as well as being able to live their lives comfortably, and medical marijuana can be a great option for relief!

Disclaimer: These statements have not been reviewed for accuracy by the FDA. As always, seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider when considering trying a new treatment. Do not start or stop taking any medications without speaking to your doctor first. 

Sources:

https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet

https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/index.html

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hiv-aids/symptoms-causes/syc-20373524

https://www.healthline.com/health/hiv-aids#TOC_TITLE_HDR_1

https://www.verywellhealth.com/medical-marijuana-for-hiv-4129028

https://www.marijuanadoctors.com/conditions/hiv-aids/

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Katie

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