How Can Medical Marijuana Help HIV/AIDS Patients?
Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is an incurable disease which destroys cells that fight disease and infection thereby weakening the immune system. As a result, HIV patients can suffer from a wide range of medical conditions and symptoms.
At this time, HIV is incurable. The best that an HIV patient can hope for is to prevent the progression of HIV becoming AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome. A treatment known as antiretroviral therapy (ART) is quite effective at slowing or stopping the progression of HIV, however these medications come with their own set of unpleasant side effects.
Could medical marijuana be useful in helping HIV/AIDS patients live longer and improve their quality of life? It turns out there are two ways in which the use of medical marijuana can help HIV/AIDS patients. First, it can help to delay the progression of AIDS, and second, it can help reduce a variety of symptoms that can be caused by the disease and the traditional medications which are used to treat it.
Effect Of Medical Marijuana On HIV/AIDS
Researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle and the University of California, San Francisco undertook studies to assess the impact of cannabis use on immune cells in 198 HIV-infected patients. Their report stated that heavy cannabis use in HIV-infected, ART-treated individuals was associated with lower frequencies of activated T cells. The authors of the report concluded, “our work suggests that cannabinoids may have an immunological benefit in the context of HIV infection, as lowering the frequency of activated T cells could limit the risk of development of non-AIDS-associated comorbidities.”
Additionally, researchers at New York City’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine published the results of a study in 2012 which demonstrated that cannabinoids found in cannabis can block the signaling process between HIV and CXCR4, a type of receptor that allows HIV to enter and infect a cell. Patients treated with cannabinoids showed a reduction in the frequency of infected cells of as much as 30 to 60 percent.
Using Medical Marijuana To Treat Symptoms of HIV/AIDS
Infection with HIV can result in a wide variety of conditions which result from immune deficiency. Some of the symptoms of HIV/AIDS include:
- Chronic pain and inflammation
- Loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting
- Memory loss
These are not nearly all of the symptoms associated with HIV/AIDS. However, these are symptoms which have been shown to respond positively to the use of medical marijuana in some patients. The human endocannabinoid system has been shown to be involved in many physiological functions, including pain, mood, memory and appetite.
HIV/AIDS can cause damage to the nervous system resulting in chronic neuropathic pain. It can also cause headaches, abdominal pain, painful swallowing and coughing. Another major cause of pain is inflammation. Cannabinoid receptors located in the peripheral and central nervous system have been found to play an important role in regulating the perception of pain. Cannabinoids have also been shown to provide powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
Loss Of Appetite/Nausea
Nausea and lack of appetite are common in HIV/AIDS patients both as a result of the disease and many of the traditional medications used to treat it. This can often result in malnutrition, and severe weight loss. Many clinical studies have shown that cannabis can profoundly reduce nausea and increases in appetite.
Dealing with HIV/AIDS can take a toll on a patient’s emotions. Many AIDS patients who use medical marijuana claim that it improves their mood. However, it’s important to note that the psychoactive effects of marijuana can vary widely from patient to patient, and that some users actually experience increases in anxiety. If marijuana which is high in THC causes anxiety there are forms of cannabis which are also low in THC and higher in a cannabinoid known as cannabidiol, or CBD.
Neurocognitive disorders such as memory loss are common in people with HIV. The virus can establish itself in the central nervous system causing damage to neurons. Most antiretroviral medications are unable to cross the blood-brain barrier making them ineffective at decreasing levels of HIV in the brain. Many studies have shown that cannabinoids found in marijuana have neuroprotective effects. In a research report published in Nature Medicine, researchers from the University of Bonn, Germany, showed that THC can provide significant benefits to mice when it comes to age-related cognitive decline.
How To Get Medical Marijuana for AIDS or HIV
If you are a resident of a legal state who has been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS you may be eligible for a medical marijuana card. Talk to your doctor about it. Your primary care physician can refer you to a state-certified physician who can recommend the use of medical marijuana for the treatment of your condition. If your doctor is not open to the idea of using cannabis to treat your condition you may need to seek out a primary care physician who is.To consult with a certified doctor in order to get a medical marijuana card, fill out the MMJ patient registration form, press submit and a physician or clinic representative will contact you as available.