World Aids Day takes place on December 1st each year and serves as a time to unite against HIV and AIDS and show support for those living with the virus. HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus attacks the immune system, by killing protective T cells inside the body. Over time, the death of T cells leads to a very weakened immune system and the virus evolves into AIDS, the last stage of HIV infection. Without these powerful infection-fighting cells, the body is susceptible to different opportunistic infections, such as meningitis, pneumonia, encephalitis, and more. These infections are very serious and can be deadly for someone with HIV and an already compromised immune system. There is currently no cure for HIV, but treatment using antiretroviral therapy has been shown to extend the lives of those with HIV drastically, when treated in early stages.
Cannabis has been used to help with the symptoms and treatment of HIV. Pain, nausea, weight loss, and depression can affect those with the virus. Cachexia, or severe wasting of the body, was the initial medical push for marijuana as a treatment options. Patients are expected to keep a very strict medicine schedule, despite that fact that many of these medicines cause upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Many patients see themselves rapidly losing weight. Antiemetic intervention is important and THC works effectively to stop nausea and vomiting and CBD works to reduce inflammation of the digestive tract. In an attempt to create a pharmaceutical that contained a similar ingredient to THC resulted in the formulation of the drug Marinol, which actually contains a synthetic form of THC. However, the drug was largely considered to be less effective than cannabis at increasing appetite and weight gain. There has been speculation that this was due to entourage effect. It was also found that using cannabis improved mood, as well as provided a stress relief. Cannabis can also help with the pain associated with the virus. Peripheral neuropathy occurs as the exterior sheath of nerve cells is exposed, creating a “pins and needles” sensation that can vary in intensity. The analgesic effects of cannabis can give much needed relief.
Current research and anecdotal evidence indicates that medical marijuana can help with HIV-associated symptoms. Perhaps the greatest benefit to using cannabis as a treatment option for HIV is the broad spectrum of conditions that can be treated. Future research will be done to explore long-term use of cannabis for HIV patients in controlled, single-patient studies. This will not only provide more insight and knowledge, but it would further help to reinforce the link between cannabis and HIV.