Medical marijuana can known to be effective in relieving symptoms in patients with HIV / AIDS. Its analgesic and antiemetic effects are just some of the reasons so many patients report using cannabis. But indirect effects like stimulating appetite can also help. How? ‘Or’ What ? This is what the research tells us.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) refers to a group of diseases caused by infection; by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). About 37.9 million people worldwide are infected with the HIV virus in 2018. AIDS has caused some 32 million deaths since the start of the epidemic; and around 770,000 people died in 2018 .

However, there are many symptoms and health problems that can occur with HIV / AIDS. Therefore, there is a huge need not only for viable remedies, but also for treatments to relieve symptoms. So cannabis has been shown to be very effective in treating several important symptoms of HIV / AIDS.

1. THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) helps increase appetite

People with HIV often report loss of appetite, but it is important to prevent weight loss. When loss of appetite becomes a problem, cannabis improves appetite.

In 2007, a double-blind study was conducted on the effects of smoked cannabis and oral dronabinol; (a synthetic form of THC). This study found that cannabis and dronabinol increased calorie intake compared to placebo in a dose-dependent manner in HIV-positive cannabis users.

Recent research (2018) indicates that cannabis vapor (used to simulate how people frequently consume cannabis) results in more frequent, albeit smaller, meals. So when used in lab rats, it causes them to eat, even if they have recently eaten. Therefore, it is believed to somehow induce the brain’s appetite sensors to starve them.

When large doses of cannabis and dronabinol were given, patients also experienced a significant increase in body weight. Under placebo conditions, the average weight of the participants was 77.5 kg. After four days of cannabis; the patients gained 1.1 kg and after four days of dronabinol the patients gained 1.2 kg of weight.    

2. Cannabis helps relieve nausea from HIV/AIDS

Nausea is a common symptom of HIV infection and as the disease progresses; the causes of nausea can become more and more complex. They can occur due to gastrointestinal problems, hepatorenal dysfunction; central nervous system disorders or as a result of treatments used to treat the disease.

The ability of cannabinoids and some synthetic analogues to counter the symptoms of nausea in patients with AIDS is well known. Cannabidiol relieves vomiting and nausea by indirectly activating a specific serotonin receptor in the dorsal raphe nucleus (a specific location in the midline of the brainstem).

In fact, dronabinol, the analogue of THC, is approved by the Food & Drug Administration for the treatment of nausea and loss of appetite associated with cancer and AIDS. 

3. Cannabis can improve mood from HIV/AIDS and act as an antidepressant

Anxiety, depression and emotional disturbances are common features of HIV / AIDS and can occur due to a combination of negative physiological, psychological and social pressures. The 2005 patient study found that; 93% of participating patients experienced relief from anxiety after using cannabis; while 86% also reported improvement in depression.

4. Using cannabis as an analgesic to reduce pain  

AIDS can produce severe and debilitating pain of different and complex origins; especially joint, neurological and muscle pain. A 2011 cross-sectional study of 296 socio-economically disadvantaged patients found that 53.7% suffered from severe pain; 38.1% had moderate pain and 8.2% had mild pain. More than half of the subjects were prescribed an opioid pain reliever. Additionally, an increase in acute pain was found to correlate with the incidence of depression.

The 2005 patient study found that 94% of participants experienced relief from muscle pain as a result of cannabis use. 90% also reported improvement in neuropathy (nerve pain) and 85% in paresthesia (burning, tingling and itching sensations).

The fact that cannabis can provide significant subjective long-term relief from chronic pain in people with AIDS is remarkable. Safer and potentially cheaper drugs; that could replace opioid use among disadvantaged groups could have several positive consequences; including a decrease in opioid-related deaths and increased availability of drugs to those who need them.

5. Cannabis can reduce peripheral neuropathy

A specific and particularly common form of pain associated with HIV / AIDS is peripheral neuropathy; in which one or more nerves of the peripheral nervous system (any part of the nervous system other than the brain and spinal cord) are damaged and lead to pain, spasms, paraesthesia, loss of muscle mass and loss of coordination. Cannabis helps to improve symptoms of peripheral neuropathy resulting from HIV / AIDS; as well as other diseases in which it occurs, such as diabetes.

Beyond the subjective reports of reduction in nerve pain and paresthesia mentioned above; other studies have evaluated the ability of cannabis to improve peripheral neuropathy in patients with HIV / AIDS.

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