Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is a disease that attacks the body’s immune system (natural defense system) by killing protective white blood cells. Over time, HIV reduces the number of white blood cells in the body which makes it harder for the body to fight off infections. As the defensive system weakens, other harmful infections, called “opportunistic infections,” take advantage of a compromised immune system. Meningitis, pneumonia, encephalitis, tuberculosis, chronic diarrhea, and cancers are some examples of these infections. If not treated, the advancement of HIV can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, the most severe phase of HIV infection[i].
There are a number of studies supporting the efficacy of medical marijuana in eliminating nausea, appetite loss and other HIV/AIDS related medical symptoms. A study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found that a large number of patients reported that cannabis improved symptom control. To help you learn more, we’ve created a list of the top 5 ways cannabis can help better manage HIV/AIDS related symptoms.
1. Medical Marijuana Stimulates Appetite
HIV/AIDS patients experience loss of appetite and body weight. A number of studies have investigated the therapeutic uses of medical marijuana and observed increases in appetite and body weight. A 2005 survey conducted on 523 HIV-positive patients found that “143 (27%) of the respondents used cannabis to manage their symptoms; of those, an overwhelming 97% reported that they experienced improvements in appetite”.
2. Medical Marijuana Helps Alleviate Nausea
Nausea is a common symptom of HIV infection; as the disease progresses, causes of the nausea can become increasingly complex. A 2005 study found that among HIV-positive patients experiencing nausea, those who used cannabis were more likely to adhere to their anti-retroviral therapies than non-users.
3. Medical Marijuana Reduces Anxiety and Improves Mood
Anxiety, depression and mood disorders are a common feature of HIV/AIDS, and can arise due to a combination of negative physiological, psychological and social pressures. In a 2007, double-blind study, researchers found that cannabis improved respondents’ mood and caused a ‘good drug effect’ that increased feelings of euphoria and self-confidence.
4. Medical Marijuana Provides Chronic Pain Relief
HIV/AIDS is known to cause severe pain that arises from complex sources, including joint, nerve, and muscle pain. A new study from Canada conducted a one-year study that evaluated the safety of cannabis use by patients with chronic pain over 1 year. Participants were provided with a standardized cannabis product (12.5% THC) in the form of flowers, concentrates or edibles. Results showed that participants reported a reduction in pain and an increased quality of life. The group also reported a decreased sense of anxiety, depression and fatigue.
5. Medical Marijuana Decreases Peripheral Neuropathic Pain
Peripheral neuropathy is a complex and chronic condition that results from damage to the sensory, motor and automatic nerves. For patients with HIV/AIDS, peripheral neuropathy can be caused by the virus itself, by certain drugs used in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, vitamin deficiency, or as a result of opportunistic infections. Recently, cannabis has been found to help people suffering from neuropathy by relieving some of the pain associated with the disorder. A 2010 study found that “a single inhalation of 25mg of 9.4% THC cannabis three times daily for five days reduced the intensity of pain and improved sleep.” Another 2015 study found evidence supporting the use of cannabinoids in lowering pain levels associated with cancer, neuropathy and other acute and chronic pain conditions.
If you’re an HIV/AIDS patient considering medical cannabis for symptom management, we strongly recommend consulting a physician before using cannabis. To find a physician who prescribes medical cannabis near you, click here.