Over 36 million individuals are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. HIV/AIDS patients often deal with a plethora of symptoms that are both caused by the disease itself and the medicines prescribed to combat it. These symptoms include nausea, severe pain, wasting syndrome, appetite loss, and mood debilitation.
A recent study revealed that more than 60% of HIV/AIDS patients self identify as utilizing medical cannabis to help manage their ongoing symptoms. We want to provide our patients with a comprehensive understanding of HIV/AIDS and how medical cannabis can assist in relieving the symptoms of the disease. The following sections will provide an overview of those benefits, in tandem with the available research and patient testimonials describing their personal experiences.
Before we dive into the many benefits of medical marijuana in treating the symptoms of HIV/AIDS, it's important to note the available research and understand the results thus far. As always, we recommend talking with your primary physician before considering cannabis in treating your symptoms. While there is plenty of promising research, there hasn’t been enough (due to federal restrictions) to create a definitive answer of the efficacy of cannabis in treating the symptoms of HIV/AIDS. We still strongly encourage considering medical cannabis, and believe in the current research available, as well as the overwhelming amount of patient testimonials.
In 2007, investigators at Columbia University published clinical trial data in 2007 reporting that HIV/AIDS patients who inhaled cannabis four times daily experienced "substantial ... increases in food intake ... with little evidence of discomfort and no impairment of cognitive performance." They concluded, "Smoked marijuana ... has a clear medical benefit in HIV-positive [subjects]."
That same year, investigators at San Francisco General Hospital and the University of California's Pain Clinical Research Center reported that inhaling cannabis significantly reduced HIV-associated neuropathy compared to placebo. Researchers reported that inhaling cannabis three times daily reduced patients' pain by 34%. They concluded, "Smoked cannabis was well tolerated and effectively relieved chronic neuropathic pain from HIV-associated neuropathy [in a manner] similar to oral drugs used for chronic neuropathic pain."
A 2005 survey conducted on 523 HIV-positive patients found that 143 (27%) of the respondents used cannabis to manage their symptoms. Of those, an overwhelming 97% reported that they experienced improvements in appetite, 93% reported subjective improvements in nausea after smoking, and 94% of respondents experienced relief from muscle pain as a result of using cannabis. 90% also reported improvement in neuropathy (nerve pain) and 85% in paresthesia (burning, tingling and prickling sensations).
In a randomized clinical trial at the University of California San Diego, smoked cannabis at maximum tolerable dose (1–8% THC) significantly reduced neuropathic pain intensity in HIV-associated DSPN compared to placebo when added to stable concomitant analgesics. Mood disturbance, physical disability, and quality of life all improved significantly for subjects during study treatments, regardless of treatment order.
MANAGING HIV/AIDS SYMPTOMS WITH CANNABIS
Cannabis is renowned for its ability to increase appetite, often referred to as the “munchies.” For patients dealing with HIV/AIDS, eating can be a challenge from both the symptoms themselves and as a side effect from the medicines often prescribed. Rapid weight loss occurs in the AIDS stage of HIV. Appetite stimulation from cannabis can assist in not only increasing appetite, but increasing weight as a result.
Not all cannabis strains assist in appetite stimulation. However there are a number of options that ideally serve this purpose. Typically certain indica strains, indica dominant hybrids, and cookies phenotypes are the best in stimulating appetite. This creates a challenge due to the sedation often associated with indicas and indica dominant hybrid. However in moderate doses, patients can maintain functionality and avoid the couchlock effect.
On the indica side, GDP carries a sweet, berry like aroma and taste. This strain can assist in stimulating appetite. While this is a fantastic option, GDP is often sedative and can create a couchlock effect depending on tolerance and quality. Pre-98 Bubbais another indica option which provides a hefty body high, with a less sedating effect. On the indica-hybrid side, Sour Grapes (GDP x Sour Diesel) is a nice blend between a stimulating cerebral high and a calm body relaxation stemming from its indica lineage. Girl Scout Cookies phenotypes are known for their ability to combat gastrointestinal issues, as well as increase appetite without the strong couchlock associated with many indicas.
Another major benefit associated with cannabis is its ability to combat nausea, and calm the stomach when dealing with gastrointestinal issues. There is a wide variety of strains ranging from indica to sativa which aide in reducing nausea. HIV/AIDS patients often deal with nausea stemming from the disease itself, as well as frequently prescribed medications.
On the indica side, Big Bud provides a strong body high that often results in sedation. Big Bud assists in relieving gastrointestinal issues such as nausea and discomfort. On the hybrid side, Cheese (or the various Cheese phenotypes) assist in alleviating nausea. The potent cheesy taste is something that patients either love or hate. On the sativa side, Super Silver Haze not only carries an earthy yet citrusy taste, but can assist in nausea reduction while creating an uplifting euphoric high. Again, Girl Scout Cookies phenotypes are known for their ability to combat gastrointestinal issues and are a great option for alleviating nausea.
The analgesic effects of cannabis make it medicinally valuable to a number of ailments. There are a number of options ranging from sativa to indica that provide pain relief. HIV/AIDS patients manage severe pain that arises from various complex sources including joint, nerve, and muscle pain.
When medicating for pain relief, there are a number of great options available. Patients should seek medication high in myrcene, a terpene associated with pain relieving properties. Patients may also want to medicate with CBD heavy strains that provide pain relief without the psychoactive effects from THC heavy strains. Another noteworthy aspect of CBD heavy strains is that they are effective at tackling the pain from neuropathy.
On the sativa side, Blue Dream is typically high in myrcene and provides uplifting effects which may also aide in the anxiety and depression often associated with fibromyalgia. On the indica side, OG Kush is typically high in myrcene and can also aide in the sedation necessary for the sleep problems associated with fibromyalgia. For those seeking CBD heavy strains, Cannatonic is known for its pain relieving properties without causing the “high” associated with medical marijuana.
Anxiety, depression and mood disorders are a common feature of HIV/AIDS that can arise due to a combination of negative physiological, psychological and social pressures. Certain strains of cannabis can create an uplifting, euphoric effect ideal to manage mood and create an overall feeling of wellness.
There are a number of options that can assist in mood enhancement. Strains that are high in the terpene Limonene help improve mood, and CBD heavy strains are known to help alleviate anxiety and provide a calming effect.
On the sativa side, Super Lemon Haze is a notable strain that is high in Limonene that provides mood enhancing effects while giving an energetic boost. On the indica side, Berry White is known to carry high Limonene that relaxes the body while improving the mind. For CBD, Good Medicine is known to reduce anxiety and provide a feeling of well being.
Reducing Peripheral Neuropathy
A specific and particularly common form of pain associated with HIV/AIDS is peripheral neuropathy in which one or more nerves of the peripheral nervous system (any part of the nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord) become damaged and lead to pain, twitching, paresthesia, muscle loss and impaired coordination.
As mentioned before, CBD heavy strains are excellent in tackling neuropathic pain. The non-psychoactive nature of CBD allows for full retention of functionality and for patients to manage their days with ease. Indica and indica dominant hybrids provide heavy body highs which can aid in reducing neuropathic pain in their own right. However these strains can sometimes cause couchlock and sedation.
There are many different ways to consume cannabis, and a plethora of options that aren’t listed above in treating the various symptoms from HIV/AIDS. We recommend talking with your patient consultant and working together to find the right approach for you.