There is a misconception that marijuana can affect the immune system, which are why there have been doubts about the plant’s effectiveness in address HIV/AIDS symptoms. But more research is proving the opposite.
Once a person is exposed to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the virus goes into the bloodstream and attacks the cells of the immune system, and then it multiplies. Because HIV attacks the body’s immune system, you’re much more prone to getting sick from opportunistic diseases. If your body becomes too weak to fight off any infection, that’s when HIV turns into AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). An estimated 34 million people have died from HIV, while 37 million people live with the disease today.
HIV medications are prescribed to reduce the viral load, which can then prevent the virus from reproducing in the body in order to preserve the immune system. Certain HIV drugs work by reducing both the viral load while treating any infections that have made their way to the bloodstream. Many patients take prescription medications so that the body becomes strong enough to fight off nasty opportunistic infections. While there are so many kinds of pharmaceutical drugs used in the treatment of HIV and AIDS symptoms, there is still no cure.
It’s common for those diagnosed with HIV to spend their days taking a handful of different pills to reduce the pain that typically comes with the disease. HIV can cause pain known as peripheral neuropathy, and the treatment medications can cause side effects such as depression, appetite loss, nausea, and difficulty sleeping.
Cannabis has been used to address these side effects.
One of the most commonly occurring illnesses that are present in people with HIV is peripheral neuropathy, or pain in nerves that are responsible for feelings in arms and feet. Peripheral neuropathy can cause unbearable pain, muscle loss, impaired coordination, paresthesia, and twitching. A 2007 study of 55 patients was conducted to test the effectiveness of marijuana in addressing the pain. The participants who smoked pot daily showed a 34% decrease in pain, and that 52% of the patients experienced more than 30% in pain relief as compared to those who were on placebo.
Patients diagnosed with HIV are prone to experiencing bouts of emotional instability characterized by anxiety, depression, and mood swings. These feelings can arise out of simply being diagnosed with HIV, but are also caused and exacerbated by psychological and physiological factors. When marijuana is administered in controlled doses, it can increase serotonin levels in the brain. It acts as a natural antidepressant because it contains compounds that resemble the brain’s endocannabinoids, which the body releases in times of high stress. When marijuana activates the endocannabinoid receptors, it directly affects the cells responsible for serotonin production which helps in regulating our moods.
HIV can cause appetite loss, which is oftentimes worsened because of medications although cannabis intake has shown to be promising in treating this. A 2005 study of 523 HIV-positive patients showed that 27% of them use marijuana to alleviate their symptoms. Out of those participants, 97% said that they had better appetites. A double-blind study conducted in 2007 examined the effects of both marijuana and dronabinol, which is a synthetic form of the plant, on HIV-positive patients. The findings showed that participants who consumed both marijuana and its synthetic form showed improvements in their appetite; in particular, the patients began to eat more often. When the patients were administered higher doses of both marijuana and dronabinol, they also showed an increase in overall body weight.
Nausea is common in patients who are diagnosed with HIV, especially as the condition progresses. Nausea is sometimes caused by gastrointestinal problems, central nervous system disorders, medications, or a combination of factors. The ability of marijuana to treat nausea even in patients who don’t have HIV is quite well-known already. A 2005 study of HIV-positive individuals showed that those who were administered marijuana were more successful in adhering to anti-retroviral therapy as compared to individuals who did not.
People with HIV often have a hard time falling asleep because of anxiety, depression, or unbearable pain. The right strain of marijuana has the ability to relax both the physical body and the mind, making it easier to fall and stay asleep. Sometimes even just a small dose is enough to help a patient get a good night’s rest.
Potential for HIV Reversal
Some doctors also think that cannabis intake has the potential to slow down the spread of the HIV virus in the body. Much more research needs to be done in this area to confirm anything. A recent study published in the AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses journal explored this idea. In the study, which was carried out by researchers at the Louisiana State University, monkeys who were given a daily dose of THC during a 17-month period showed a reduction in the gut’s immune tissue which is a significant location of HIV infections. The team also found that the effect of THC on the was done on a genetic level. The researchers also found that the monkeys who were administered THC showed higher levels of healthy immune cells. “It adds to the picture and it builds a little bit more information around the potential mechanisms that might be playing a role in the modulation of the infection,” says Dr. Patricia Molina, the study’s lead author and head of the the Physiology Department at the Louisiana State University.
Some of the world’s largest HIV/AIDS organizations, including the American Academy of HIV medicine, already supports the idea of patients having access to medical marijuana. Slowly but surely, the industry is turning a new leaf and accepting that conventional medicine is no longer enough in providing patients with the treatment that they deserve.