How does medical cannabis help to minimize HIV disease progression? The facts

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

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Should doctors prescribe cannabis for HIV/AIDS? While it cannot be claimed a cure, science certainly paints a pretty promising picture of the potential that cannabis holds as a treatment for the debilitating disease.

The green plant is emerging as an option for symptomatic relief from Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). In fact, out of the 33 U.S. states that have legalized medical cannabis, 30 of them have added HIV/AIDS to their list of qualifying conditions.

Those states are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

Although alternative methods of treatment do exist, many of them are known for producing unwanted side effects, including nausea and migraines. When used in conjunction with existing HIV/AIDS treatment, cannabis could potentially counteract unwanted side effects. 

Cannabis for HIV/AIDS: The plant may relieve side effects 

Research into the effects of oral cannabinoids in people living with HIV revealed how the cannabis plant may ease the side effects of Antiretroviral therapy. 

Although this type of treatment for HIV is effective at minimizing virus proliferation, the side effects can be debilitating. Examples of the common side effects caused by Antiretroviral therapy include bone loss, tiredness, nausea, anxiety, insomnia, chronic exhaustion, wasting syndrome (cachexia) and lipodystrophy.

The researchers noted that cannabis, on the other hand, can be used to combat feelings/symptoms of nausea, anxiety and insomnia. The plant also triggers the increased activity of osteoblasts – the cells that form new bone.

In 2017, Michigan State University scientists concluded that cannabis may relieve the mental decline commonly associated with patients who suffer from HIV and AIDS. In fact, the majority of all patients who are diagnosed with AIDS and HIV will have high levels of brain cell inflammation, as opposed to those who do not suffer from the disease.

Cannabis’ primary psychoactive compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) proved most effective at minimizing brain cell inflammation in HIV/AIDS patients.

“Those who used [cannabis] had levels pretty close to a healthy person not infected with HIV,”  said lead researcher Norbert Kaminski alongside his co-author Mike Rizzo, who made a point of noting that cannabis may also be useful in treating brain cell inflammation caused by Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. 

Cannabis for HIV/AIDS: THC reduces viral load in infected mice and relieves pain, studies suggest

An earlier study carried out in 2014 by researchers at Louisiana State University discovered that cannabis’ primary psychoactive cannabinoid THC was effective at reducing viral load in macaques that were infected with a similar disease similar to AIDS; simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). SIV is commonly experienced by Old World monkeys throughout Africa.

The study stretched over 17 months in total and was titled, “Modulation of Gut-Specific Mechanisms by Chronic Delta 9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Administration in Male Rhesus Macaques Infected with Simian Immunodeficiency Virus: A Systems Biology Analysis.” Scientists discovered that THC successfully minimized viral load in SIV-infected macaques

Some years before the aforementioned study was conducted, a phase II, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial was launched. The 2008 trial explored the pain-relieving qualities of smoked cannabis and placebo; the plant was more effective at easing distal sensory predominant polyneuropathy (DSPN) than the placebo.

Cannabis for HIV/AIDS: Weed could offer a safer alternative to conventional methods of treatment

Being diagnosed with HIV need not mean that the affected person has to cut their life short nowadays. Thanks to scientific research and innovations in treatment, the symptoms associated with this debilitating disease can be kept under control. Existing evidence is often gleaned from animals studies, due to federal restrictions on the research of the Schedule 1 narcotic.

On that note, further studies and trials on humans are needed to fully ascertain the link between cannabis and HIV/AIDS.