How Can Medical Marijuana Help HIV/AIDS Sufferers?


In honor of World AIDS Day, which took place on December 1st, we chose to explore the often overlooked use of medical marijuana by those that suffer from HIV/AIDS.

It’s no secret that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS generally take a significant toll on those infected with the disease. HIV compromises the immune system by killing protective white blood cells, causing myriad physical symptoms while the ongoing social stigma associated with HIV and AIDS wreak havoc on the mind. As such, those infected with HIV/AIDS frequently embrace any and all alternative medical treatment options available. Over the past several decades, marijuana has become increasingly popular as one of those treatment options, especially when paired with the medications used to treat HIV/AIDS.

How is HIV Treated?

For those less familiar with HIV, the standard and most effective treatment for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS; the progressed form of HIV) is high active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), a mixture of medications that slow the disease’s progression. HAART is often paired with other pharmaceuticals to manage the “opportunistic infections” that frequently plague those with HIV/AIDS.

With weakened immune systems, individuals become more vulnerable to serious harmful infections; these “opportunistic infections” include meningitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, encephalitis, chronic diarrhea and several variations of cancer, among others.

What Can Medical Cannabis Do For HIV & AIDS Patients?

Although cannabis-related research is still relatively limited, there is no shortage of studies that support marijuana’s ability to eliminate, or at least mitigate, symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. About one third of HIV/AIDS patients experience severe pain as a result of HAART, while other common responses to AIDS medications include nausea, vomiting, appetite loss, and weight loss. In fact, these adverse side effects can be so debilitating that patients will abandon their treatment, and therefore long-term survival, in order to achieve some level of relief. Patients supplementing their regimen with cannabis, however, are 3.3 times more likely to continue their HAART.

Beyond helping patients maintain treatment regimens by mitigating side effects, studies also show that patients who have the legalized option of using marijuana medicinally tend to shy away from illicit substances like opioids that can cause addiction, further weaken the immune system, and lead patients to abandon their HAART.

According to one 2005 study published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, “medicinal use of marijuana may facilitate, rather than impede, ART adherence for patients with nausea, in contrast to the use of other illicit substances, which were associated with lower rates of ART adherence.”

Those interested in learning more about the efficacy of medical marijuana for AIDS and HIV patients will find information in several studies published on the topic in addition to those referenced here.

While research is being conducted regularly to improve understanding and develop a further repository of proven medical data, much is already known of medical cannabis’ ability to relieve and reduce symptoms. To support further developments in relief and potential cures for AIDS and HIV, consider donating to the Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR).

Today’s blog is written by Rick Weyback, MD, president and founder of Doctor Jane and our medical marijuana physician. Stay tuned for additional discussions of the ways in which medical marijuana can help patients with a wide range of symptoms associated with various conditions, ailments and diseases--from HIV to diabetes, depression, insomnia and more.

About Doctor Jane

Doctor Jane is South Florida’s most discreet, professional, and convenient concierge medical cannabis practice. Dr. Luis Enrique R. Liogier-Weyback and his wife, Katie Liogier-Weyback, B.S., R.N., founded Doctor Jane on the core tenets of bringing personal, convenient, professional and discreet patient care to the medical marijuana treatment process. Doctor Jane provides South Florida patients and their caregivers with a safe space where they can exercise their right to access medical cannabis therapy in an environment of their choosing, free from stigma and complications.

Visit our website to find out more or to schedule your own medical cannabis consultation.