Cannabis and HIV have quite a history. For one, cannabis has been known to have medical benefits for HIV/AIDS patients since the early days of disease’s emergence. Thanks to the hard work of activists and researchers, several states now recognize cannabis as a legitimate medical treatment for many of the symptoms — and some of the treatment side effects — associated with HIV and AIDS.
Here, we’ll explore the link between cannabis and HIV. If you are an Iowa resident who has been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, read on to learn how cannabis may be able to help.
Paths to Legalization: The Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program
An initial push for legal cannabis treatment of HIV came courtesy of Robert Randall, a Washington, DC, man who successfully sued the federal government for access to cannabis in the 1970s to treat his glaucoma. Randall’s efforts led to the establishment of the Compassionate Investigational New Drug program, a system under which HIV and AIDS patients were able (albeit, with the burden of some bureaucratic red tape) to secure access to cannabis by the early ‘90s.
As of January 2019, 31 states, including Iowa, now list HIV and AIDS as qualifying conditions for legal medical cannabis treatment; California, Nevada, and Georgia, on the other hand, consider AIDS but not HIV to be qualifying conditions.
(If you’re in IA, Keep in mind the current medical cannabis program only allows dispensaries to sell CBD extracted in oil form, containing no more than 3% THC. As such, some of the uses of cannabis for HIV/AIDS patients spelled out here may not apply in entirely the same ways.)
How Cannabis Can Help
Although comprehensive medical research has been obstructed by cannabis’ status as a Schedule I drug, there is some evidence that cannabis can significantly improve the quality of life for those with HIV and AIDS.
So what can cannabis actually do for those living with HIV and AIDS?
Off the bat, it’s important to recognize that antiretroviral (ARV) pharmaceutical therapy is currently accepted as the most effective method of suppressing HIV and AIDS and of preventing them from progressing. Any use of cannabis as an HIV/AIDS medication should be a supplement to and NOT a substitution for antiretroviral treatment.
With that out of the way, there’s reason to believe that smoked, whole-flower cannabis can significantly reduce the pain associated with peripheral neuropathy, a degenerative nerve condition exacerbated by HIV and AIDS that can cause sharp, stabbing pains in the hands and feet. A 2007 study at San Francisco General Hospital measured a 34% reduction in pain for participants who were given cannabis cigarettes daily.
One benefit for HIV/AIDS that might seem more intuitive is cannabis’ ability to stoke the appetite. Cachexia, better known as “wasting syndrome” is a rapid and inexplicable loss of weight and appetite that often happens in conjunction with HIV/AIDS and ARV treatment. The ravenous hunger that sometimes accompanies a cannabis high may help counteract this loss of interest in food and weight gain.
Another potential link between cannabis and HIV/AIDS that begs further study is cannabis’ ability to actually halt the progression of the disease throughout the body. THC, CBD, and the various other cannabinoids in whole-flower cannabis stimulate various receptors; some of those receptors, designated CR2, are connected to immune system cells. A 2012 study at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine suggested that CR2 receptors stimulated by cannabis may signal adjacent T-cells to resist new HIV infection.
How To Take Advantage
If you have tested positive for HIV or AIDS, your first step should be to contact a doctor. If you don’t already have one, visit hiv.gov to find medical providers if your area — some services may be able to help even if you don’t have medical insurance.