First clinically observed in 1981, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a group of diseases resulting from disruption to the immune system. AIDS is described as the advanced stage, and only develops as a result of contracting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Categorized as a wasting syndrome, symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea, severe neuropathy and fatigue.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 1 million people in the U.S. are infected with the disease. Since its discovery in 1981, AIDS has taken the lives of more than 36 million people around the world. Currently it is estimated that 35 million people around the world have HIV. For this reason, the disease is considered a pandemic.
The most common treatment regimens prescribed to AIDS patients are made up of powerful pharmaceuticals that come with many debilitating side effects of their own, including extreme nausea, cachexia and depression. In 2007, the journal AIDS Care: Psychological and Socio-Medical Aspects of AIDS/HIV reported that up to 60 percent of AIDS patients use medical cannabis without a physician’s recommendation because of how beneficial it is in the treatment of symptoms.
Medical cannabis allows those suffering from HIV and AIDS to consume calories, improving their overall quality of life, because it effectively stimulates the appetite. The use of even small doses of medical cannabis has also shown to relieve the nausea and pain that accompanies the disease itself and is exacerbated by the strong pharmaceuticals prescribed to treat it. With these findings regarding symptom relief, it is no surprise that so many people who suffer from HIV and AIDS supplement with medical cannabis therapies.
While clinical cannabis research may still be lacking, there is no shortage of studies supporting cannabis’ efficacy in eliminating nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss. Cachexia, also known as “wasting syndrome” related to significant unintentional weight loss, is a common condition that is associated with HIV/AIDS patients. Furthermore, recent studies are showing that cannabis may hold promise as an inhibitor of HIV/AIDS progression – slowing the replication of HIV.
In addition to the physical relief that cannabis can offer HIV/AIDS patients, the therapeutic impact on the mental wellbeing of patients dealing with all of the emotional stress associated with a condition such as this cannot be overlooked. The possible euphoria and joy produced by certain cannabinoids can also play a significant role in the general health of any patient – enjoyment can provide tremendous healing benefits for patients suffering from conditions that can cause depression.
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A 1999 report commissioned by the White House and Institute of Medicine (part of the National Academy of Sciences) found that nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety can all be treated with cannabis. The study concluded, “[f]or 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.”
In 2013, a study conducted at Temple University School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine revealed that a synthetic form of THC, the most prevalent psychoactive cannabinoid found in medical cannabis, was able to essentially re-wire cells harboring HIV.
Another study published in the AIDS Researcher and Human Retroviruses in 2014 concluded that HIV and AIDS patients who regularly consumed THC showed significant improvement in health. One clinical study, conducted by Dr. Patricia Molina over the course of 17 months, revealed that THC can actually strengthen the immune system of monkeys that have been infected with the primate equivalent of AIDS.
According to a study conducted at San Francisco General Hospital by the University of California’s Pain Clinical Research Center in 2007, medical cannabis can reduce HIV-associated neuropathy by up to 34 percent. In the study, patients who consumed medical cannabis at least three times per day experienced the most significant symptom relief.
Cannabis Use in HIV for Pain and Other Medical Symptoms.
Cannabidiol inhibits growth and induces programmed cell death in kaposi sarcoma-associated herpesvirus-infected endothelium.
Cannabis in painful HIV-associated sensory neuropathy.
Smoked Medicinal Cannabis for Neuropathic Pain in HIV: A Randomized, Crossover Clinical Trial.
While research has shown cannabis to be effective in providing palliative and therapeutic effects for some patients, always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before starting any new treatment utilizing medical cannabis or discontinuing an existing treatment. The content on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.