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HIV and Cannabis

Cannabis Use and HIV

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a viral disease that can be spread when certain bodily fluids (blood, semen/pre-semen fluid, anal/vaginal fluid) come in contact with mucus membranes (mouth, anus/vagina), damaged tissues (sores, cuts, trauma, etc.), or direct injection into the body (sharing needles, accidental stick, donated blood/organs). HIV cannot be contracted through casual contact like hugging, sharing dishes/glasses, drinking fountains, or toilette seats.

HIV is a virus, much like the flu, where the body works to get rid of it, but with HIV, the body’s immune system ends up being negatively impacted and the body can’t get rid of the virus. Without medical intervention and treatment, it is likely that HIV will eventually wreak havoc on body’s immune system, leaving it open for a variety of other diseases and leading to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS.

Treatment for HIV has advanced to the point where most people who stick to the antiretroviral therapy (ART) can expect to live a long, normal life without progressing to AIDS. It is important to be diagnosed early and to start on the ART treatment as soon as possible. In addition to ART treatment, studies show that cannabis offers solutions to the effects of HIV and living with the virus.

Some of the effects of HIV on the body or side effects from ART treatment include nausea, anxiety, body pain, fatigue, and depression. Medical marijuana has been effective as an antiemetic, allowing HIV patients a better ability to address their nausea and vomiting and providing a better quality of life. In addition, cannabis can increase the appetite, helping HIV patients consume the calories they need to stay healthy.

Another positive effect of using cannabis for the treatment of HIV includes its analgesia effect, helping reduce the inflammation and pain that is part of HIV. It has been reported that patients who inhaled cannabis three times a day reduced their pain by 34%. Cannabis can also help with sleep and anxiety, helping HIV patients realize a better quality of life. People who use medical marijuana tend to be calmer, have lower blood pressure, and feel less anxiety. One study showed that patients who use cannabis are 3.3 times more likely to keep to their ART regiment, possibly due to the positive outlook patients have by using cannabis.

One of the most exciting possibilities with cannabis is the growing amount of information that suggests cannabis stops the spread of HIV in the body. HIV works to kill immune cells. In the monkeys tested, those being treated with cannabis had more healthy cells than those not treated with cannabis. More research is underway to further understand this aspect of cannabis and an HIV treatment.

Being diagnosed with HIV is life changing. Knowing what to do begins with an open and honest discussion with a health care professional. HIV patients should work with their doctor to determine the best treatment for them and to understand how cannabis can be part of the plan.

For more information visit AIDS.gov.

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