Though national rates of HIV/AIDS cases seem to be holding steady in Canada, some populations are seeing an increase in the number of people living with the disease. With the introduction of antiretroviral therapy (ART), the long-term outlook of people diagnosed with the condition has improved significantly. HIV is no longer the automatic death sentence it once was.
Though ARTs may have side effects, they’re generally effective. Where cannabis comes in is that adding the plant to treatment helps patients address related conditions like weight loss and depression. It often also makes them feel well enough to keep taking their important medicine. Studies have even associated marijuana consumption with increased immunity levels. So, it seems that cannabis can be an important part of a treatment for HIV/AIDS.
What Is HIV/AIDS?
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that can be contained but not cured with treatment. It attacks the body’s immune system and specifically the CD4 or T cells that are responsible for keeping the immune system strong against infection. AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is the last stage of HIV infection and occurs when the body has a weak immune system that often leads to other serious illnesses.
HIV can spread by:
- Sharing bodily fluids
- Using contaminated needles
- Childbirth (a mother can pass HIV to her child at birth)
The two main types of HIV are HIV-1 and HIV-2. Several strains exist under these two types. Some pass on easily, while others are more difficult to spread. ARTs work well on most types, although research into the rarer types of HIV is limited.
Common symptoms of most HIV types include:
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- Chronic diarrhea
- Skin lesions
- Compromised immunity
What the Research Says About Marijuana Easing HIV/AIDS Symptoms
- Weight loss
- Mood swings
- Loss of appetite
Medicinal cannabis is an important motivation factor for many HIV patients to continue taking the necessary ART that will prolong their lives and provide optimal results. Cannabis appears to alleviate many unwanted related symptoms and causes minimal interference or interaction with ARTs.
A different study focusing on HIV-positive women saw that subjects turned to marijuana to help relieve related symptoms like stress, loss of appetite and pain. Researchers associated daily cannabis consumption with a better quality of life.
Yet another study of HIV patients on ARTs who also consumed cannabis showed a 20% increase in two kinds of T cells. T cells strengthen the immune system, but the HIV virus attacks them.
Recommended Cannabis Strains for HIV/AIDS Patients
- Blue Dream: This hybrid strain is reported to be well balanced and a good choice for a cannabis newbie as well as someone with more marijuana experience. Blue Dream is a good choice for HIV/AIDS patients because it’s known to improve mood and ease many types of pain.
- Cheese: Named for its cheddar-like smell and taste, Cheese is a popular strain that’s been reported to stimulate appetite, ease pain, combat nausea and alleviate depression.
- Durban Berry: This marijuana strain gives you the best of both worlds: It relaxes and stimulates appetite at the same time. Durban Berry is a well-balanced hybrid strain that won’t affect your ability to carry on with daily activities.
- Fruit Punch: Depression, stress, fatigue and anxiety are common conditions that develop alongside HIV. The life-altering nature of the virus is profound, and the consequences can be hard to deal with. The sativa-dominant Fruit Punch marijuana strain provides some relief by delivering a relaxing tropical flavour with potent antidepressant effects.
- Sour Diesel: With a high-THC content, Sour Diesel is an energizing strain that’s most suitable for experienced cannabis consumers. It’s also been reported to help reduce stress and depression, which can often accompany HIV/AIDS.
Photo credit: Paolo Trabattoni