If you are HIV positive, or know somebody who is, the following explanation of HIV/Aids is old news but, for completeness, it has to be included. Please bear with us.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome:
- Acquired means its an infection you can get – in this case HIV
- Immune Deficiency means the infection attacks the immune system – the body system that fights disease
- Syndrome is a word used to describe the group of symptoms that go with a specific disease.
If you get infected with HIV, your body will try to fight the infection. It will make antibodies, special molecules to fight HIV.
If you have a blood test that finds HIV antibodies, it means that you have been infected with HIV and you are, therefore, HIV positive.
Being HIV-positive is not the same as having AIDS. Many people are HIV-positive but don’t get sick for many years. However, as HIV disease continues, it slowly wears down the immune system; infections, viruses and fungi that are usually not problematic can make you very sick.
To measure the damage caused by the HIV, doctors count the CD4+ cells in your blood. These cells, also known as T-helper cells, are part of the system responsible for fighting off ‘invading’ cells and thus keeping your body healthy. As your immune system becomes progressively less efficient the number of CD4+ cells falls.
Healthy people have between 500 and 1,500 CD4+cells in millilitre of blood.
Traditional Treatments for HIV
The amount of HIV circulating in the blood is known as the viral-load and HIV medication is designed to lower the viral-load and stop the HIV from reproducing. There is, however, nothing that will rid the body of the HIV completely. Along with these retro-viral drugs other drugs are used to help the body fight off opportunistic infections. Some anti-HIV drugs combine the roles, both reducing the viral load and reducing the number of infections.
There is no cure for AIDS. Although there are drugs that slow down the HIV virus, and the damage to your immune system, there is nothing that will rid your body of the HIV completely. Along with these retro-viral drugs (see below), other drugs are used to help the body fight off opportunistic infections. Some anti-HIV drugs combine the roles, both reducing the viral load and reducing the number of infections.
Cannabis and HIV
Marijuana can help HIV patients in several ways; it can:
- Ease nausea
- Increase appetite
- Control nerve pain
- Ease depression
- Help sleeping
Marijuana and Nausea
A valuable effect of marijuana is its ability to reduce nausea, a property which is used to good effect in helping cancer sufferers deal with the side-effects of chemotherapy. Many HIV patients become nauseated at the thought of taking their anti-viral medication; marijuana can help control that nausea, thus ensuring that all medications are taken as scheduled.
The fatigue that accompanies HIV infection can also cause patients to feel nauseous. It becomes a vicious circle; the fatigue makes you feel sick, feeling sick makes eating difficult, not eating leads to fatigue. This complex cycle can lead to AIDS-wasting. Anybody who has used marijuana will have experienced the munchies. This increase in appetite can help prevent, or at least slow down, AIDS wasting.
Marijuana and Nerve Pain (Neuropathy)
There have been countless anecdotal reports of marijuana relieving the pain, nausea and muscular spasticity that often accompany cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other ailments.
In 2008, scientists reported that cannabis can ease nerve pain. Researchers at University of California Davis examined whether marijuana produces analgesia for patients with neuropathic pain. The thirty-eight patients in the study were given either high-dose cannabis, low-dose cannabis, or a placebo.
In the placebo group, less than a quarter reported pain reduction. But both the cannabis receiving groups showed a measurable reduction in pain levels. Interestingly, they showed the same level of pain reduction; that is, pain reduction was not dose related. This means that smoking more cannabis does not result in greater pain reduction.
However, patients suffering from debilitating nerve pain got as much or more relief by smoking marijuana as they would typically get from prescription drugs — and with fewer side effects.
Now this is a Pandora’s Box like no other in the world of marijuana – some saying that marijuana contributes to depression and others saying that it helps it. Back in 2007 researchers actually found that it does both.
According to researchers McGill University and Le Centre de Recherché Fernand Seguin of Hôpital in Quebec and l’Université de Montréal in Montreal from THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, increases serotonin when smoked in low doses, similar to SSRI antidepressants, such as Prozac. However, at higher doses, the effect reverses itself and can actually worsen depression and other psychiatric conditions like psychosis.
The antidepressant and intoxicating effects of cannabis are due to its chemical similarity to natural substances in the brain known as endo-cannabinoids, which are released under conditions of high stress or pain. The study demonstrated that these receptors have a direct effect on the cells producing serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that regulates the mood.
Marijuana as a Sleep Aid
One of the most common side effects of marijuana is drowsiness, which makes it a helpful sleep aid for just about anyone having difficulty sleeping. Many insomniacs will smoke a little bit of marijuana in the evening before they know they need to go to sleep. For certain individuals, using marijuana is the only way they can fall asleep at night and get a full night’s rest. However, some users report that cannabis-induced sleep is far from refreshing. It’s a case of finding out what’s right for you.