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AIDS/HIV and Medical Cannabis


HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that, as the immune system is progressively destroyed, can develop into acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). There are two species of Lentivirus (a subgroup of retrovirus) that causes HIV infection. HIV infects helper T cells (specifically CD4+ T cells, which can create HIV “reservoirs” that render the infection incurable at the moment), macrophages, and dendritic cells.

Potential Efficacy / Quality of Evidence (Low, Average, High) of Medical Marijuana for AIDS/HIV


Cannabinoids, Terpenes/Terpenoids, Strains, and Ratios May Help

THC and CBD. CBD may be beneficial as an anti-inflammatory.

1:1; high THC may also help with the pain.

Medical Cannabis Pros

CBD may inhibit the growth of certain types of herpes virus, which can help if a person living with AIDS has multiple infections.

Cannabis may control inflammation in those with AIDS/HIV and may even slow down the progression of HIV to some extent.

Cannabis can help stimulate the appetite, especially as cachexia and loss of appetite are common side effects of AIDS/HIV and the medications used to treat it.

Beat nausea and vomiting.

Improve the mood and reduce fatigue and insomnia, depending on the cannabinoids needed and desired.

People living with HIV/AIDS may suffer from muscle pain and neuropathic pain, and both THC and CBD may help.

Medical Cannabis Cons

  • Cannabis that isn’t well-grown may contain pathogens that cause an infection.
  • “Dry” or “cotton” mouth may be exacerbated by cannabis use.
  • Cannabinoids may further dampen the immune system.
  • Cannabis smoke may irritate the throat and lungs, and recovering from such injuries takes longer with AIDS/HIV.
More About the Condition

Approximately 1.2 million people were living with HIV in the US in 2013. HIV is most often spread via unprotected sex. Still, contaminated blood transfusions, needle sharing, and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding are other ways of being infected by HIV. “AIDS” is usually applied when HIV is in its late-stage and has developed into its final form.

While the treatments we have created to treat HIV/AIDS have proven to be quite effective, not everyone can tolerate all of them, and even if a person can, the side effects of these medications can prove to be debilitating. Cachexia (wasting syndrome, or sudden weight loss), nausea, peripheral neuropathy, and joint and muscle pain are side effects of the disease and some of the medications. Cannabis could help with all of these symptoms.

Nowadays, treating HIV/AIDS is not as daunting a prospect as first discovered. Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) and medications such as non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs) and nucleoside analog reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) such as zidovudine, tenofovir, lamivudine, and emtricitabine. Protease inhibitors (PIs) and integrase inhibitors (IAs) help slow the progression of AIDS/HIV significantly.

Quotes from Experts

“Heavy cannabis users had decreased frequencies of human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-DR+CD38+CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell frequencies, compared to frequencies of these cells in non-cannabis-using individuals. Heavy cannabis users had decreased frequencies of intermediate and nonclassical monocyte subsets and reduced frequencies of interleukin 23- and tumor necrosis factor-α-producing antigen-presenting cells.

While the clinical implications are unclear, our findings suggest that cannabis use is associated with a potentially beneficial reduction in systemic inflammation and immune activation in antiretroviral-treated HIV infection.” Source: Manuzak JA, Gott TM, Kirkwood JS, Coronado E, Hensley-McBain T, Miller C, Cheu RK, Collier AC, Funderburg NT, Martin JN, Wu MC, Isoherranen N, Hunt PW, Klatt NR.’ Heavy Cannabis Use Associated With Reduction in Activated and Inflammatory Immune Cell Frequencies in Antiretroviral Therapy-Treated Human Immunodeficiency Virus-Infected Individuals.‘ Clin Infect Dis. 2018 Jun 1;66(12):1872-1882. doi: 10.1093/cid/cix1116. PMID: 29471387; PMCID: PMC6248381.

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Case Studies – Patient Stories

‘Patient: how marijuana has helped me’ | The Daily Telegraph