Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that causes infection and, over time, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), a disease that interferes with and weakens the immune system. According to the CDC, an estimated 1.2 million people have HIVE, and 1/8th of those afflicted are unaware they have the disease. We’ll give you an explanation of the condition, typical treatment methods , the ability of cannabis to treat a variety of HIV/AIDS symptoms.

What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s “T cells,” which are integral fighters for your body’s immune system. As the virus progressively destroys T-cells, the body’s immune system becomes weaker. In this weakened sate, the body can become unable to fight off infections, diseases, or cancers that would be otherwise thwarted by a healthy person’s immune system.

If left untreated, the disease can become so advanced that it progresses to AIDS, the final stage of HIV infection. With treatment, HIV sufferers can live a full life without ever progressing to this stage, however, HIV is incurable.

The disease is primarily spread through unprotected sex, blood transfusions, or hypodermic needles. As such, condom use and needle exchange programs are important components of keeping yourself safe and HIV-free.

HIV is often difficult to notice upon infection, and can go undetected for years until the disease has progressed to a far more dangerous stage. That makes getting regularly tested imperative: find a service center near you.

Traditional Treatment

As there is no cure or effective vaccine for HIV, treatment revolves around slowing the progression of the disease and combating opportunistic infections acquired as a result of the disease. For treatment of the disease itself, antiviral medications are often prescribed, and adverse side effects vary based on the particular drug used. Additionally, medication is often taken preemptively to stave of tuberculosis, hepatitis A and B, and other opportunistic infections. Fortunately, advances in medicine have transformed HIV from a fatal disease to a chronic one in many parts of the world.

Cannabis for HIV-related Pain

With HIV comes neuropathic pain, or pain brought on by the way in which the disease affects the nerves. This type of pain is particularly difficult to treat, with only ~50% of people who experience it receiving relief from treatment. Fortunately, researchers have found cannabis to be effective in treating HIV-related neuropathic pain. In the study, one group of patients were giving marijuana cigarettes, and the other placebo cigarettes. The marijuana treatment was twice as effective in reducing daily pain compared to placebo, relieving pain by 34%.

A similar study was conducted in 2009 which also compared smoke cannabis to placebo for a group of subjects with neuropathic pain brought on by HIV. Researchers noted the cannabis medication was significantly more effective at treating pain than a placebo, and also pointed out that there were no serious adverse side effects to speak of. When compared to opioids, an effective but far more dangerous pain-management alternative, having no serious adverse side effects is a major plus.

Cannabis for Other HIV Symptoms

Another serious side effect of moderately advanced HIV is a loss of appetite, and as a result, weight loss. Researchers gave HIV-positive patients placebo, smoked marijuana, and Dronabinol, a cannabis-based medication. They found that Dronabinol and smoked marijuana were much more effective than placebo at stimulating appetite. The groups without placebo experienced both an increase in food intake and body weight over the course of the study. Maintaining the requisite nutrition is essential for anyone, but is vital for patients in helping fight off infections. Cannabis aids in this goal.

Importantly, the study also noted that patients experienced elevated mood and greater quality of sleep. Of those who received marijuana and Dronabinol, they rater their quality of sleep as higher than the placebo group. Data analyzed from the Nightcap used, which measured brain patterns during sleep, concurred with these subjective ratings: they spent more time asleep than the placebo group. Along with nutrition, getting restful sleep is essential in maintaining a healthy immune system. With the help of cannabis, HIV patients can sleep better and stay healthy.

Looking Forward

While cannabis will probably never be the sole medication used in treating HIV, research shows that it is extremely helpful in managing the symptoms of the disease. With cannabis, patients can live a life with less pain, more sleep, and more food, increasing their quality of life substantially.