8 Facts And 1 Big Speculation About Marijuana And HIV

Come for the facts, stay for the speculation!

HIV/AIDS
Photo by Flickr user Steven Depolo

Next to glaucoma, HIV/AIDS is the condition most associated with the earliest days of the medical marijuana movement. While we have years of data now, how it works—and even whether is works—to treat HIV/AIDS is still far from consensus.

Here’s some of what we do know:

  • As many as one third of HIV/AIDS patients use medical marijuana.
  • The nation’s first marijuana dispensary, the San Francisco Cultivators’ Club, opened in the early 1990s specifically in response to AIDS crisis. At its peak, the club boasted some 10,000, about 80 percent of whom were HIV/AIDS patients.
  • The first cannabinoid drug, Marinol (synthetic THC), was approved by the FDA way back in 1985 to combat the nausea and weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS.
  • Not all involuntary weight loss is the same: Marinol works well with AIDS and with cancer patients; it does not work well at all with people who suffer from anorexia.
  • The nausea cannabis treats is often a side effect from antiretroviral drugs.
  • We still don’t know why cannabis suppresses nausea. But studies have shown that activating cannabinoid receptors does quell it, while suppressing the receptors can promote vomiting.
  • A 2007 study from Columbia University found that HIV/AIDS patients who smoked marijuana four times a day had a “substantial” increase in food intake. It concluded that marijuana has “clear medical benefit.”
  • Just three puffs a day is enough to reduce chronic neuropathic pain associated with HIV/AIDS by at least 30 percent. That’s according to UC San Diego study.
  • Here’s your bonus for speculation: In recent years, evidence has been emerging that suggests cannabis may not just treat the symptoms of HIV/AIDs but actually slow the progress of the disease. A 2012 study showed that our cannabinoid receptors in the gut can interfere with the signaling process HIV uses to subvert other cells and reproduce itself. Then, in 2014, researchers at Louisiana State University found that THC not only lowered the HIV load in research monkeys it also elevated their T cell count.

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