People living with HIV/AIDS suffer from a weakened immune system, making them much more susceptible to infections and cancers. Patients are often treated with antiretroviral drugs that can help them live longer but do not cure the virus.
Leafly reports that nearly one in three HIV/AIDS patients use cannabis to treat pain, nausea, appetite loss, wasting syndrome, and emotional decline. Not only can cannabis ward off these debilitating symptoms and unwanted side effects from medication, but it may also help fight HIV itself.
Here are 5 things you need to know about how cannabis treats HIV/AIDS:
THC can lower viral loads
Antiretrovirals aim to reduce the number of HIV virus particles in patients. This number, also known as the patient’s viral load, is key when monitoring the progression of the disease. A study published in the journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses found that THC, one of the main components of cannabis, can actually lower these levels and prolong survival.
Cannabinoids help block the spread of HIV within the body
When cannabis is consumed, cannabinoids activate receptors located throughout the body. An NIH study found that activation of the CB2 receptor decreased the ability of HIV to infect specific cells, reducing the frequency of infected cells by 30-60%.
Cannabis reduces HIV-associated sensory neuropathy
Numbness or pain in the hands and feet is one of the most common neurological complications of HIV infection. A study published by PubMed found that smoked cannabis relieved chronic neuropathic pain in patients by 34% with no serious adverse events.
THC stimulates appetite
HIV/AIDS patients usually struggle with appetite and weight loss, especially those with AIDS Wasting Syndromewho lose over 10% of their body weight. Cannabis is known to relieve nausea fast, and a study published by PubMed found that 97% of HIV/AIDS patients reported improved appetite after using cannabis.
Cannabis helps patients stick to their treatment regimes
Common responses to antiretrovirals include nausea, vomiting, appetite loss, and weight loss. According to Leafly, about one third of patients also experience antiretroviral-associated pain. However, a JAIDS study found that patients who supplemented their medications with cannabis were 3.3 times more likely to continue with their treatment due to lessened side effects.