How Can Cannabis Can Help Treat HIV Symptoms? | cannabisMD

How Can Cannabis Can Help Treat HIV Symptoms?

HIV AIDS Cannabis Treatment

With new research, new funding, and ever increasing awareness, the prevalence of AIDS and its mortality rates have declined rapidly since the 1980s. Boomboxes, walkmans, Converse high tops, break dancing, ATARI, and some of the best music and cinema of the 20th century was not all that was great about this decade. The Cold War, Gorbachev, and a fear of World War III was not all that was terrifying about this decade. There was a spectre in the 80s that terrified many. Along with that fear was deeply entrenched homophobia and ignorance about what AIDS was, who it affected, and how it could be treated. Cities like San Francisco experienced the AIDS epidemic in tragic ways; AIDS was said to have decimated San Francisco. This disheartened many across the nation and struck the fear of God in many others. Since the 1980s, we have come a long way in our ability to look at AIDS and those who suffer from it with compassion and empathy. With healing and hope, with funding and research, today the future looks much brighter. But awareness, prevention, and new treatments continue to be necessary to push back against this terrifying disease.

AIDS and HIV. Prevention and Awareness.

Even with all that we think we know, HIV and AIDS is still spreading among every demographic–every socioeconomic group, race, and those of every age. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the United States continues to see roughly 40,000 new cases of diagnosed HIV every year. This number is staggering! There demographic groups that are more at risk than others. Gay and Bisexual men continue to be most at risk for HIV contraction. In fact, in 2014, this demographic represented 67% of the newly diagnosed cases of HIV. Black gay and bisexual men are particularly vulnerable to contracting HIV and there are some reasons why this might be so. For blacks in America, race continue to play a role in perceiving medical care providers as racist. Additionally, a heart wrenching New York Times article reports that these men face additional social stigmas as gay or bisexuals in their communities and are more likely to pursue riskier chance sexual encounters, rather than reduce their probability for contracting HIV by having more monogamous, and therefore, lower risk sexual relationships with their partners. In fact, black gay and bisexual men have a 50% chance of contracting HIV and the risk of it developing into AIDS is higher than any other demographic. This is a tragedy to say the least. In 2010, the Obama administration made it easier to get funding for treatment and research for HIV/AIDS for the most vulnerable populations. One advancement during this era was the development of a preventative medication called Truvada which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2012. The daily pill was for pre-exposure prophylaxis (usually called PrEP) that if used alongside other safe sex practices, including condom use, has more than a 90% chance of preventing the contraction of HIV. Many people who contract HIV, however, do not realize they have the virus until symptoms start interfering with their quality of life, and sometimes that can take years. This is because of how the HIV virus works. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. This virus does not cause any symptoms by itself. What it does is use the human immune cells called T-helper cells (also known as CD4 cells) to replicate. Virtually anywhere there are T-helper cells, the HIV virus is able to replicate. HIV can be found in the brain, blood and in the intestines. You may not even have any symptoms of illness and can still spread HIV. explains how the HIV virus is spread:

  • from unprotected sexual intercourse–during the exchange of sexual fluids
  • from a woman living with HIV to her baby, during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding
  • through sharing equipment used to inject drugs, such as needles and syringes
  • from blood transfusions and organ transplants, when they have not been carefully screened for HIV
  • healthcare workers accidentally injuring themselves with previously used syringes and other medical instruments.

Once the immune system has been sufficiently compromised by the HIV virus, other infections which may not trouble a healthy individual, can cause serious and even deadly symptoms. These secondary infections are called, opportunistic infections. Someone who has lived long enough with the HIV virus, and has not yet undergone treatment, is said to have developed late stage illness, which is considered AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. For an AIDS diagnosis, these opportunistic infections have taken their toll on the immune system to the extent that the damage is so dire, the individual can no longer fight off these secondary symptoms. There are three stages of HIV infection and in each stage, there are accompanying symptoms.

HIV Symptoms. What You Need to Know.

After contracting the HIV virus, there are two progressive stages before someone is said to have contracted AIDS. Once someone has developed AIDS, the damage the virus has done to the body is much more difficult to treat. Since 1996, the anti-viral treatments for HIV (HAART medications) have become so effective that, at least in the developed world, it is much less common for someone to die from AIDS complications. Still, the earlier the symptoms are discovered and tests prove a positive result, the quicker the treatment regimen begins and the greater the likelihood that a person can enjoy a longer life, symptom free.

The three stages are as follows:

  • Stage One: The Acute Phase. Flu-like symptoms 2-4 weeks after contracting the virus. Fever, headache, and rash are likely. The virus is replicating fast and aggressively at this stage and the concentration of the virus in the bloodstream and other fluids is very high. So during this stage, before someone is likely to know they have even contracted the virus, the risk of infecting another person is also very high.

After contracting the HIV virus, the body will react to this pathogen as it would react to something like the flu-virus. In a healthy person, the immune system would try and attack the influenza virus, and symptoms like a high temperature, body aches and pains, swollen and painful lymph glands would appear. This is the body’s attempt to eradicate the influenza virus. It is the normal immune system response and for the most part, healthy individuals can fight off the influenza virus. The HIV virus begins with symptoms in the same way. But without antiviral drugs, the HIV cannot be fought alone,because it is silently attacking the immune system’s CD4 T-helper cells. This is when the virus is aggressively killing these immune cells in order to replicate.

  • Stage Two: The Chronic Phase. After the initial contraction and flu-like symptoms at onset, the HIV virus does not replicate as quickly. So, there are usually no symptoms at the beginning of the chronic phase. This is why people who have contracted the virus still may not know they have it, especially if they are unaware they were initially exposed to it; they may think they simply contracted a bad cold following exposure to the virus. However, since the immune system is being attacked insidiously, exposure to the secondary or opportunistic infections means that their immune system will not be able to fight effectively.

For instance, many people have contracted the cytomegalovirus. Eight out of ten people by the time they reach 40, to be exact. This is a common virus that is related to the herpes virus. It lies dormant in healthy people who have contracted it. For someone who has contracted the HIV virus, the cytomegalovirus will take the opportunity to ravage the body of someone whose immune system has been compromised. For instance, for someone who is HIV-positive, and who is not receiving HAART treatment, the cytomegalovirus can cause blindness. Some people can live for up to a decade in the chronic phase while they remain HIV-positive.

  • Stage Three: AIDS. When the viral load has become too great, and the secondary infections are two, three, or many in number, that person has said to have Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. People with HIV are diagnosed with AIDS if they have a CD4 or T-helper cell count concentration of less than 200 cells/mm3, or if they have certain opportunistic infections. With treatment, people with AIDS may survive about 3 years. This is still a much better prognosis than in years past.

There is treatment for HIV-positive individuals and there is hope. The strict regimen of anti-viral medications must be taken very seriously to prevent different strains of the virus from taking advantage and multiplying, especially before secondary infections take a strong grip. In addition to this regimen, cannabis has been showing some very positive results in helping those with HIV/AIDS symptoms to overcome their symptoms and recuperate some of the losses to their immune system, while also helping to alleviate some of the negative side effects of the antiviral medications. Cannabis can help alleviate the symptoms of HIV/AIDS, and may also prevent the virus from duplicating.

Learn more in-depth info about how cannabis may be able to do this by clicking here: The difference between HIV and AIDS and how Cannabis can help stop the progression.

How Cannabis Can Help Alleviate HIV Symptoms and Prevent Progression of the Virus.

A quick overview of how cannabis is able to perform these functions within the body of ailing HIV patients may be helpful.

What are Terpenes and Phytocannabinoids and How do they Help Treat HIV/AIDS?

Humans have developed efficient ways of deriving necessary compounds from plants and animals that are chemically similar to their endogenous counterparts. That is to say, we have natural endogenous compounds–endogenous meaning, found, or made within–that heal, protect, ward off disease, and stabilize moods, hormones, illness, etc in order to bring about homeostasis. Homeostasis is a condition that means the body is not dis-eased in any way. Plants and animals have certain compounds that the body uses to bring about homeostasis. Sometimes, these animal and plant derived compounds are even more efficient than the endogenous compounds at bringing about homeostasis. Phyto means plant, so when we are speaking about phytocannabinoids, we mean compounds that are plant derived that are chemically similar to endogenous compounds called endocannabinoids. Terpenes are compounds found in not only cannabis, but in many other plants such as citrus fruits, lavender, cilantro, etc. Terpenes also have properties that the body uses to bring about homeostasis. Cannabis and oil derived from cannabis contain phytocannabinoids and terpenes in plentiful amounts.

Here is how terpenes and phytocannabinoids work together to help heal, protect, and bring about homeostasis in HIV positive patients:

Terpenes: Terpenes are organic compounds that give certain plants a particular flavor or scent. Even in very small amounts, they can have potent therapeutic effects and are often known as the compounds in essential oils. There are approximately 120 distinct terpenes found in the cannabis plant, but the most common are:

  • limonene: The therapeutic effects of limonene that may help HIV patients range from acting as a natural antidepressant to acting as an anti-inflammatory.
  • Pinene: Pinene has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is found in other essential oils like tea tree oil.
  • Linalool: Linalool is most commonly known as the terpene found in lavender. It is known to have anti-anxiety properties, relieves stress, and is a muscle relaxant. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV antiviral medication is often unattainable for HIV positive patients, a common indigenous plant is used in this region to help combat HIV symptoms naturally. This plant contains both linalool and limonene and several other terpenes. These terpenes working together have shown statistical significance at effectively “inhibiting the activity” of the HIV virus. These terpenes are known to be safe compounds with little to no negative side effects.


Since the 1995 discovery of the endocannabinoid system, researchers have been scrambling to isolate the different cannabinoids, and discover their many uses. There are currently around 85 known phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis sativa plant. CBD and THC are its most abundant cannabinoids. These potent and healing phytocannabinoids may help HIV patients with a number of their reported symptoms such as:

  • Cachexia
  • Inflammation
  • Depression
  • Neuropathic Pain

Humans have cultivated the marijuana plant and used it for ceremonies, folk magic, and healing for millennia. Now that we have the science and the instruments to study the molecular components of phytocannabinoids, and how they affect the human body, we continue to see that our ancestors intuitively knew that cannabis had the potential to prolong life and alleviate disease in ways we are merely trying to prove with empirical science. Cannabis has been shown to be effective at treating symptoms of relatively new viruses such as HIV. Research is still needed to prove the efficacy for the treatment of HIV and its related symptoms. Recognizing that we have a responsibility to advocate for its use as a therapeutic agent is an imperative, and pushing back against those legislators who would prevent its use for these purposes is a right and a responsibility.

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
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