In the past few decades, medical marijuana has become an increasingly common prescription for patients as they attempt to manage the many devastating symptoms of this disease. Today, the statistics are nearly one in three HIV/AIDS patients turn to cannabis to ward off pain, nausea, appetite loss, cachexia, and emotional decline, a surprising statistic when you consider the social stigma and political blockades surrounding the disease.

What is HIV?

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a disease that compromises a person’s immune system by killing protective white blood cells. As this defensive system shuts down, other harmful infections, called “opportunistic infections,” thrive. Meningitis, pneumonia, encephalitis, tuberculosis, chronic diarrhea, and cancers are some examples of these infections. The advancement of HIV is what leads to AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, defined by the appearance of additional infections and a low CD4+ T cell count.

What Treatment is Used for HIV?

The primary treatment for HIV/AIDS is high active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), a mixture of medications that slow the disease’s progression. Pharmaceuticals may also be prescribed to manage opportunistic infections, AIDS-related symptoms, and the side effects of other prescription drugs.

How Cannabis Can Help Treat HIV/AIDS

Cannabis research is advancing throughout the years, but there is no shortage of studies supporting the plant’s efficacy in eliminating nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss. These effects can also help patients restore weight and maintain essential nutrients. Cannabis, whether inhaled or consumed as an extract, also targets neuropathic pain induced by HIV/AIDS therapy.

Not only does cannabis reduce symptoms and side effects, it has also demonstrated some promise as an inhibitor of HIV/AIDS progression. One study, for example, observed a marijuana constituent called Denbinobin slow the replication of HIV. Though this mechanism requires further study, it opens up great possibilities for improved HIV/AIDS therapies.

The symptoms of HIV/AIDS can take a heavy toll on patients as physical discomfort converts to emotional anguish. Depression, anxiety, and stress continue to feed physiological deterioration, and yet the euphoric relief associated with cannabis consumption has been pushed into the realm of taboo.

Patients considering medical marijuana for HIV/AIDS symptom management should always consult a physician before using cannabis, but knowing what options are available can make a world of difference.