Does cannabis/marijuana help AIDS patients

Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, over 70 million people globally have been infected while 35 million have died from the HIV virus. In spite of the milestones that have been achieved so far, there is unfortunately no definitive cure for the scourge. However, successful efforts have been made towards prolonging and improving the quality of life of the victims. Marijuana provides relief for HIV patients, as you will learn from this article.

Current treatment of HIV/ AIDS

Current HIV treatment involves the use of ARVs which intercept the multiplication of the HIV virus in the human body with the hope of reducing the viral load. With this, patients have been able to live longer and manifest fewer symptoms for as long as they are adhering to their ARV regimen. With increased survival rates, patients are seeking alternatives to boost their quality of life.

Unfortunately, ARVs also present their unique set of side effects. This means that comprehensive treatment should include management of symptoms brought about by the virus as well as ARVs. Put together these symptoms include: pain (especially neuropathic), loss of appetite, loss of weight, diarrhea, flu-like symptoms, constipation and depression.

Here is a breakdown of symptoms which may benefit from marijuana use:

Cachexia (HIV wasting)

People infected with HIV may begin to lose weight rapidly and not be able to gain it back even when they try to consume more food. One obvious reason for this might be due to loss of appetite which may come as a result of the infection. Other reasons of this wasting away are not very clear. Whatever the case, preliminary research supports the theory that marijuana helps HIV patients to overcome cachexia by stimulating their appetite and inducing hunger.

Marinol is a marijuana based drug that has shown positive results as an appetite stimulant that causes gain in lean muscle mass for people with severe wasting syndrome.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is the psychoactive compound found in weed is known to induce the munchies. This means that it triggers a ravenous appetite by tricking the brain into thinking that the body is starving. It also stimulates the olfactory senses so that the sense of smell is heightened.

With this, marijuana can be used to increase the feeding of HIV patients and also help them to gain some weight.

Nerve Pain

HIV /AIDS patients usually suffer from a painful nerve condition known as peripheral neuropathy; this is mostly associated with anti retroviral therapy. This condition occurs when the covering of the nerve cells is stripped away to expose sensitive nerve endings. Over time, this can become a debilitating condition to the extent that the patient is unable to walk.

People have used marijuana to alleviate pain from as far back as ancient civilizations. With the widespread legalization of marijuana, scientists have been able to conduct research to confirm the analgesic properties of cannabis. A 2007 study conducted by San Francisco general hospital investigated the effect of marijuana on peripheral neuropathy. The conclusion was that smoking marijuana affords similar pain reduction for HIV patients suffering from peripheral neuropathy.

Mood Improvement

Getting a HIV/AIDS diagnosis usually takes a toll on one’s emotions, same as being on anti retroviral therapy. A patient may be plagued by anxiety and worry as they try to come to terms with their chronic illness and the risk of having their lives cut short prematurely. Doctors may prescribe drugs to relieve anxiety, but unfortunately these drugs may cause dependence and addiction over time.

Marijuana may be used by patients to treat anxiety and depression. A number of HIV patients who use marijuana for recreational use stumble upon this benefit accidentally; while seeking the typical “marijuana high” patients have been cured of their anxiety.

As concerns marijuana addiction, this is controversial. But a lot of scientific evidence supports the theory that marijuana causes psychological dependence but not physical dependence which may be detrimental. Marinol contains synthetic THC and is able to produce euphoria. A study conducted at San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury Clinic concluded that Marinol has a low risk for abuse and hence it rarely finds its way to the black market.

However, a few patients may not be able to tolerate the side effects of marijuana which include extreme euphoria, dizziness, memory loss, and headaches. Before starting on marijuana treatment it is advisable to first consult with your doctor or you may want to start with low doses as you observe the effects.

What about slowing the progression of HIV?

Research into the use of marijuana for the treatment of chronic illnesses is still in its infancy, following a long period where marijuana was a scheduled drug. A study conducted by Louisiana State University showed that frequent doses of THC resulted in a lower viral load and increased CD4 cells over time. This study was however conducted on monkeys. Human studies need to be carried out to corroborate these findings.

Even without slowing down the progression of HIV, marijuana has proven usefulness is alleviating symptoms of HIV/AIDS. Hence, numbers of medical cannabis retailers have capitalized on this niche market as their target clientele for symptom relief.

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