What is HIV/AIDS?
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is an infectious disease that attacks the body’s immune system. The virus enters white blood cells called T-helper, or CD4 cells, and makes copies of itself, then destroys them. As more and more CD4 cells die, the body is less and less able to fight off infections and diseases, including meningitis, pneumonia, encephalitis, tuberculosis, chronic diarrhea, and cancers.
Left untreated, HIV develops into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS eventually results in death, either from an infection, or from a wasting syndrome known as cachexia. The speed at which the disease progresses depends on the age, health, and background of the patient.
A person infected with HIV is said to be HIV-positive. There is no cure for HIV, but the virus can be controlled with a combination of antiretroviral medications (ARVs) that allow people with HIV to live longer and reduce the risk of HIV transmission. ARVs and other medications prescribed for HIV have side effects, including nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, vomiting, and loss of appetite, that make life unpleasant.
From working with AIDS and cancer patients, I repeatedly saw how marijuana could ameliorate a patient’s debilitating fatigue, restore appetite, diminish pain, remedy nausea, cure vomiting and curtail down-to-the-bone weight loss.
– Kate Scannell, MD | Co-Director of Kaiser-Permanente Northern California Ethics Department