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How Can Cannabis Help People with HIV?

AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, which is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), is arguably one of the most impactful health concerns in recent human history. For decades, scientists and doctors have been seeking to understand more about this condition that has affected millions of people all around the world. Even now, it continues to be a serious healthcare issue — it is estimated that around 1.1 million people in the United States currently live with HIV, and 1 in every 7 of them don’t even know it.

Great strides have been accomplished in recent years in dealing with AIDS and HIV infection, both in terms of pharmaceutical drugs and even alternative treatments such as medical cannabis and products like cannabis oil. But a lot of work still needs to be done. It is said that the rate of new HIV cases has dropped by nearly 20 percent in the past decade, but in other parts of the world where knowledge and resources are still scarce, AIDS continues to be an epidemic. In South Africa, for instance, there is an estimated 7 million people living with HIV, with as many as 250,000 AIDS-related deaths in 2015.

Understanding AIDS

It is often pointed out that AIDS does not have a cure, because it is not a disease per se but a host of medical and health conditions brought about by immunodeficiency. The HIV virus goes against the human body’s own immune system and kills white blood cells, which are responsible for helping the body ward off and fight infections. As this natural level of protection is destroyed, other diseases can easily come in, such as meningitis, pneumonia, encephalitis, tuberculosis, diarrhea, and even cancer such as leukemia.

The HIV virus is primarily transmitted from an infected person to another through bodily fluids, such as blood and semen. HIV transmission occurs when these infected fluids come into contact with mucous membranes (such as those found in the mouth, vagina, rectum, or the inside of the penis) or damaged tissue such as wounds or openings on the skin. The virus may also enter the bloodstream directly through the use of a needle with the blood of an HIV-infected individual.

A mother who is infected with HIV may also pass on the virus to her child during pregnancy, childbirth, or through breastmilk during breastfeeding. A person may also contract HIV after receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant from an HIV-infected donor, but such instances are no longer common these days as strict screening and testing for blood products and tissues are being carried out in many healthcare facilities.

Living with HIV/AIDS

A person with HIV is considered to have full-blown AIDS when they reach a particular low CD4+ T-cell count. Since AIDS is not a particular disease but a condition that may be comprised of a variety of ailments, one can imagine how it significantly affects the human body. Patients who live with HIV or AIDS usually have to deal with a host of symptoms, which affect their overall quality of life. The usual course of treatment for HIV/AIDS is a cocktail of medications called HAART or high active antiretroviral therapy, but this potent mix of drugs also brings with it additional side effects.

Thus, those living with HIV/AIDS generally have to contend with chronic physical conditions such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, loss of weight, physical weakness, pain, and even mental conditions such as anxiety and depression. Physical comfort and relief is something that they always seek in order to enhance their productivity and quality of life. This is also the reason why increasingly, people with HIV are looking for alternative ways of coping with their condition and addressing the symptoms of their diseases. AIDS patients and those living with HIV are among the pioneer individuals who have tried alternative treatments such as medical marijuana or cannabis, and they have reported astounding results in terms of managing their symptoms.

How Cannabis Works

Medical marijuana or cannabis is increasingly being sought by people suffering from diseases and medical conditions because of its beneficial effect on their overall health and well-being. The key ingredient in marijuana is cannabinoid, which complements the natural endocannabinoid system or ECS of the human body. The ECS encompasses the central and peripheral nervous system, and affects bodily functions and conditions such as mood, memory, appetite, and pain reception.

Taking in cannabinoids from marijuana (called phytocannabinoids) enhances the natural ECS of the body, and thus leads to the state of good health and well-being that many marijuana users reportedly experience. Note that there are more than a hundred types of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, each with their particular effect or benefit, but for medical purposes the most relevant ones are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).

THC is responsible for the psychoactive “high” that marijuana use is traditionally associated with. CBD on the other hand is more therapeutic and directly associated with the health benefits that marijuana is becoming known for.

How Cannabis Alleviates the Symptoms of HIV

In general, mainstream medical cannabis products such as cannabis oil are formulated with equal parts THC and CBD in order to cover a wide range of physical symptoms and ailments. However, in relation to HIV and AIDS, observation and initial studies have been made that point to THC being a beneficial cannabinoid in relation to the human body’s immune system. In fact, one of the widely prescribed drugs for HIV patients is Marinol, a manufactured pill that is actually a synthetic cannabinoid similar to THC.

Patients prefer taking marijuana or cannabis from natural plant sources because the effect is better and the end result is more superior. The synthetic drug reportedly has side effects, and creates an uncomfortable kind of “high” or psychoactive state that is not beneficial to the users. They also find that cannabis is easier to control and administer, and cannabis products such as cannabis oil allow them to achieve the desired state of well-being more easily.

The positive effects of cannabis do not end there. Further research has been showing that cannabis does not only help alleviate physical symptoms of HIV, but it can actually help halt or inhibit its progression—sometimes, preventing it from becoming full-blown AIDS. One study points to a particular substance found in marijuana called denbinobin that acts to slow down the replication of the HIV virus.

Cannabis: A Cure for AIDS?

Another study is zeroing in on THC as a truly effective immunosuppressant. In general, at the onset of HIV infection, there is a decrease in the number and function of a particular type of immune cells called pDC or plasmacytoid dendritic cells. However, prolonged pDC activity has been correlated with progression from mere HIV infection to the development of full-blown AIDS. Results of the study have shown that THC is able to suppress pDC function during the stage of early host antiviral response by slowing down pDC activation. Once HIV comes into the immune system, pDC can no longer fight foreign pathogens or infection. THC supposedly suppresses the functionality of this compromised immune system, and thus can potentially halt progression into AIDS.

While controversial and still requiring a lot of formal medical research (as with other cases of medical marijuana use for other diseases and ailments), such findings are truly revolutionary. They provide immense hope for HIV and AIDS patients in that a potential cure may be found in medical marijuana or cannabis. Such hope is valuable because these kinds of patients suffer a great deal physically, mentally, and even emotionally because of the chronic discomfort and symptoms that they experience on a day-to-day basis. Thus, they are open to new treatments that can truly help relieve them and restore their sense of normalcy.

Research And Studies Show That Cannabis May Be Able To Help With HIV.

The Availability of Medical Marijuana

While a wealth of anecdotal evidence exists regarding the positive benefits of marijuana in relation to a great number of diseases and medical conditions, formal scientific and academic literature has yet to be established in order for it to be widely accepted in the medical field. Great strides have been accomplished though in recent years, leading to the landmark development of medical marijuana being deemed legal in 29 states in the US, along with the District of Columbia.

The US has now followed in the footsteps of a number of countries in the rest of the globe that have accepted marijuana in some form or another for medical purposes. This growing global community where medical cannabis is increasingly being used includes countries such as Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. Similar to the US, Australia is also currently studying and passing certain legislation that allows the possession, use, and sale of marijuana or cannabis for medical reasons.

Although medical marijuana is now considered legal in some states in the US, those who wish to utilize this type of treatment for their medical conditions still have to study information very carefully because the exact laws and regulations vary from state to state. It is also wise to always consult a healthcare professional or medical practitioner with regard to using medical marijuana. Many HIV and AIDS patients do resort to medical cannabis, but usually in conjunction with current or ongoing pharmaceutical drugs or conventional medical treatments.

Keep in mind as well that medical marijuana is not yet covered by insurance, especially state health programs such as Medicard or Medicaid. Thus, the financial sustainability of a medical marijuana regimen needs to be taken into consideration. According to some medical marijuana patrons, the costs of marijuana and cannabis products such as cannabis oil turn out to be more economical and sustainable in the long run compared to mainstream pharmaceutical drugs and medicine. However, the overall healthcare picture needs to be considered in terms of continuing consultations with doctors, hospice care, assisted living, and the like.

Medical Marijuana in the Market

There are various forms of marijuana or cannabis that can be obtained for medical use. The buds or flowers of the marijuana plant are the most prized because these contain the sought-after cannabinoid substances. The most common method of taking in marijuana is by smoking it, similar to the method employed in recreational use. The dried buds or flowers, and sometimes the leaves can be wrapped in smoking paper and lit up. There are also liquid products that are made from distilled buds. These are called cannabis oil or CBD oil. The advantage of liquid medical cannabis is that it can be calibrated accurately, thus preventing overdose or adverse effects.

Liquid marijuana products can also be used with the help of a gadget or device such as a handheld vaporizer. Cannabis oil can even be mixed in regular food such as salads and soups. This is a great way for patients to regularly ingest medical marijuana and make it a part of their daily routine. Apart from liquid products, medical marijuana is also manufactured in traditional pharmaceutical forms such as pills, tables, patches, and even suppositories.

It is important to note that the method of taking in or consuming marijuana also influences its effect on a particular individual. Applying heat to marijuana or cannabis, such as in smoking it, actually releases the THC cannabinoid and thus often produces the “high” or psychoactive experience. Eating marijuana or ingesting it, meanwhile, is considered one of the most potent and long-lasting ways of experiencing its effects because the chemicals are directly absorbed by the liver. 

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The Future of Medicine

Slowly but surely, the role of marijuana in the medical field is becoming more and more accepted. Not many people know that marijuana has been used by ancient cultures and civilizations centuries ago, and thus its beneficial properties have always been known to man. Today, with the right approach and regulation, as well as with solid scientific and academic basis, marijuana or cannabis may just prove to be the future of medical treatments and for the maintenance of holistic health and well-being.