Medicinal Marijuana in the Management and Possible Treatment of HIV

HIV patients represent a significant proportion of the people who use marijuana for its medicinal benefits. Self-reporting by HIV patients indicate that they incorporate marijuana into their treatment as a way of dealing with both the symptoms of HIV and of the unpleasant side effects that accompany HIV treatment.  With rigorous research being done in this field, and new results being published on a frequent basis, there seems to be a never ending list of possible benefits for medicinal marijuana usage.

Marijuana and Its Effect on the Lives of HIV Patients

A 2004 study which was published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management decided to take a serious look at the anecdotal evidence offered by HIV patients who used marijuana to manage the side effects of their treatments. The study found that marijuana use helped patients with their depression, anxiety, pain, nausea, and appetite.

It seems easy to extrapolate from these findings that marijuana may help patients stick to their treatment. There is no need to speculate, as a 2005 study took a look at just this relationship. Researchers found that marijuana did indeed facilitate patient adherence to antiretroviral therapy. Being able to find relief from the negative side effects helped patients see their treatment through.

These findings were corroborated by another study from AIDS Care, though with one small nuance. This study found that HIV patients who considered their marijuana use as medicinal were more likely to seek out alternative and complementary therapies than patients who considered their use as recreational only. It seems that marijuana definitely helps, but that how it is viewed by patients is an important factor.

A 2007 study, published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, looked past the effects of cannabis use on treatment alone, and measured its effects on factors such as mood, sleep, appetite, and cognitive performance. Researchers compared marijuana and dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive component. They found that patients showed increased appetite with both substances, but that only marijuana aided with sleep. Patients did not note any negative effects, and rated the experience positively. 

Could Marijuana Point the Way to a Cure as Well?

So it seems that marijuana had a positive effect overall on the lives of people with HIV. But could it perhaps also offer a possible treatment option for HIV itself? There are a few tantalizing but preliminary studies which suggest that this may be a possibility.

Researchers in a 2011 study decided to pursue this line of research because of the fact that cannabinoid receptors can be found on immune system cells, suggesting that cannabinoids such as THC may play a role in the progression of HIV. This preliminary study was conducted on rhesus macaques with simian immunodeficiency virus, and it found that THC seemed to weaken the progression and severity of the disease.

A 2013 study, published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, likewise found that cannabinoids seemed to have the ability to limit HIV infection by suppressing viral replication and possibly affecting the “replication machinery” of the HIV virus. Much more research is needed in this area, but such findings definitely offer something to be excited about.