Medical Marijuana For HIV and AIDS: How Cannabis can Help Individuals with HIV and AIDS
What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV/AIDS consist of a number of health conditions that are amplified by the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome:
Acquired – meaning that it’s a disease that’s not inherited but set in motion after birth due to contact with an agent that causes the disease (which is HIV).
Immunodeficiency – meaning that the primary characteristic of what the disease does is that it weakens the immune system.
Syndrome – meaning a group of symptoms that collectively are indicative of a disease. When applied to AIDS, it also translates to specific types of infections that are “opportunistic”, and take advantage of a suppressed or compromised immune system where protective white blood cells have been killed off.
When HIV advances, it leads to AIDS, with additional infections appearing and a low CD4+ T-cell count.
Some of the most harmful infections that can materialize with HIV are meningitis, pneumonia, encephalitis, tuberculosis, chronic diarrhea, and some cancers. Symptoms and side effects that can occur with long-term drug therapies include nausea, vomiting, heart disease, weakening bones, muscle tissue breakdown and neuropathic pain.
Since the 1980’s, AIDS has claimed approximately 36 million lives, and over 35 million people across the globe today have been infected with the HIV virus1.
Patients that suffer from AIDS are typically prescribed various drugs in a highly active antiretroviral therapy (or HAART), which is a mix of medicines that help slow down the progression of the disease. They may also be prescribed drugs that can help to alleviate opportunistic infections, symptoms related to AIDS and other prescription drug side effects.
How Does Medicinal Cannabis Help With HIV & AIDS?
In a 2005 survey, 523 HIV-positive patients were asked about their use of cannabis to relieve and manage their symptoms. 143 or 27% of the respondents reported that they did use cannabis to manage symptoms, while 97% reported that appetite improvement was a result of their use2.
Symptoms such as severe nausea, chronic exhaustion, physical weakness, neurological problems, anxiety, and loss of appetite often plague patients. These side effects of regular antiretroviral therapy and other AIDS medications can be so severe that patients may forego treatment for some degree of relief. Medicinal cannabis can help ease some of these symptoms.
Medicinal cannabis that’s inhaled—either in smoked or vaporized form, has provided patients with more flexibility in dosage amounts, and more control over side effects. Medical cannabis has not only been shown to reduce HIV/AIDS symptoms and side effects, but also shown to show some promise in the inhibition of HIV/AIDS progression in the body. Below are some of the conditions that cannabis can have a positive impact on.
Medicinal Cannabis for Nausea Relief with HIV Patients
Feelings of nausea often accompany the symptoms experienced by HIV/AIDS patients. A man-made form of cannabis called Dronabinol was studied and shown to improve the feelings of nausea in patients by an average of 20 percent. And 93% of HIV-positive respondents from a 2005 survey indicated that they experienced notable relief from nausea with the use of medical marijuana3.
Medical Marijuana as a Pain Analgesic
Studies on medical marijuana use as treatment for qualifying conditions includes the benefit from cannabis in relieving pain. Traditionally, analgesics are widely used for the treatment of pain, but for patients coping with symptoms from HIV/AIDS, more powerful and effective relief is often needed. With studies on the effectiveness of marijuana to help patients manage symptoms becoming more evident and recognized, the legalization of cannabis as a treatment option for pain is becoming more widespread and accepted. These are major steps in removing stigmas that have been attached to the use of marijuana.
Cannabis is a Mood Lifting Antidepressant
People have been using cannabis to help treat depression for centuries. That’s because cannabis has been proven to provide energy and elevate mood4. Marijuana has been used by HIV/AIDS patients as a form of self-medication at times, primarily because it has properties that can ease depressive feelings.
While we are in the early stages of research on medicinal cannabis, many studies have been conducted to uncover the curative properties in cannabis for psychological disorders, but not their treatment. We need more research to determine the effect on mental illness.
In a marijuana and depression research study by the University of Southern California, a survey was given to users of marijuana and non-users. Of the 4,400 people who were surveyed, those who did use it showed less illness-related depression than non-users5.
Relief for Peripheral Neuropathy by using Medical Marijuana
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition associated with HIV/AIDS where the nerves outside the brain and spinal column are damaged. Impaired coordination, muscle loss, pain, and paresthesia (a sensation of burning or pricking in the arms, legs, hands, or feet) are most commonly experienced. The use of medicinal cannabis by a group of 450 peripheral neuropathy sufferers resulted in positive improvements in the symptoms of 67 patients in the study group6. And in a 2005 survey, 90 percent of 143 HIV-positive patients had responded positively to the cannabis with improvement in their nerve pain7.
Marijuana Helps Induce Sleep with HIV Patients
Some HIV/AIDS patients have difficulty getting a good night’s sleep, and suffer from insomnia, more often than others who may suffer from despondence and listlessness. Because of the anxiety and uncertainty that go hand in hand with coping with HIV/AIDS, it’s hard to relax and settle down for a good night’s sleep. But there are certain strains of medicinal cannabis that can help sufferers achieve much-needed rest, such as Indica, which helps produce a feeling of peacefulness that can encourage deep sleep and rest.
Using Cannabis for HIV/AIDS
If a patient is contemplating managing their HIV/AIDS symptoms with medicinal cannabis, they should always consult with a physician before attempting any self-medication or other means of relief. Knowing the options that are available and how they will impact your experience with the disease can make all the difference.
In the past few decades, medicinal marijuana has become more accepted as a legitimate treatment option, and a common prescription for patients seeking relief. Nearly 1 in 3 HIV/AIDS patients look to cannabis to relieve some of the more debilitating symptoms of the disease. So consider the benefits that it might provide for you, as the social stigmas and regulatory barriers increasingly move towards more acceptance and endorsement.
If in Illinois, the experts at MedMar Medical Marijuana Dispensary can answer any questions about the process of getting prescribed Marijuana for Medical reasons. MedMar has dispensaries in Chicago and Rockford.
Call your nearest location for information/assistance on obtaining your Illinois medical cannabis card.
If you have just received your medical cannabis card, come see us for your new patient consultation.