WHAT IS HIV/AIDS?
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) weakens immune system functioning by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. HIV advances in three stages:
- Acute HIV
- Clinical latency
- Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the most severe phase of HIV infection. Patients with AIDS are extremely susceptible to severe illnesses, known as opportunistic infections.
There is currently no known cure; however, with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. Recent research suggests the life expectancy of patients who undergo antiretroviral therapy (ART) is almost that of individuals who do not have the disease.
Soon after becoming infected with HIV, many people experience flu-like symptoms which go away after a few weeks. Patients may not experience noticeable symptoms again for years, until the disease is advanced. For this reason, it is important to get tested if you think you might have HIV.
Early symptoms include:
- Fever and night sweats
- Frequent yeast infections
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
- Skin problems, sores, and rashes
- Swollen glands
Advanced symptoms include:
- Chronic cough
- Joint pain
- Mental confusion and short-term memory loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe headache
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble swallowing
- Weight loss
The transition from HIV to AIDS is often marked by the appearance of certain cancers such as Kaposi sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and by devastating infections.
HIV/AIDS patients also struggle with a number of medication side effects, including:
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble sleeping
HOW MEDICAL MARIJUANA HELPS HIV/AIDS PATIENTS
Cannabis has long been recognized as an effective treatment for HIV/AIDS symptoms and medication side effects. According to a 2004 study published by the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome:
“A substantial percentage of cannabis users viewed it as beneficial for relief of symptoms commonly associated with HIV/AIDS. Relief from anxiety and depression were among the most frequently reported reasons for smoking cannabis, followed by appetite stimulation and relief of nausea.”
As researchers note:
“This finding is particularly relevant to issues of antiretroviral medication adherence. Nausea and anorexia are frequently cited as reasons for delayed or missed doses and discontinuation of ART.”
In fact, Dronabinol (Marinol), a synthetic form of marijuana cannabinoid THC, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of HIV-associated loss of appetite.
However, marijuana may do more than just offer symptom relief. In 2012, researchers announced:
“Data from our controlled studies in non-human primates show chronic Delta-9 THC administration prior to and during simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) infection ameliorates disease progression, and attenuates viral load and tissue inflammation, significantly reducing morbidity and mortality.”
Researchers are exploring the possibility that marijuana lowers viral replication by mediating neuroinflammation. Additional studies suggest cannabinoid receptor agonists may even work directly to suppress HIV-replication.