HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is spread through semen, blood, vaginal and anal fluids, and breast milk. HIV cannot be transmitted through sweat, saliva, or urine. There is currently effective antiretroviral treatment (combination therapy) so people living with HIV can live a longer, healthy life. The earlier HIV is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin and the greater likelihood of long-term health.
HIV testing is critical in lowering the risk of HIV spreading. It can also make it so individuals can address the condition as early as possible.
The most effective way to prevent spreading HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections, is regularly using condoms. If you inject drugs, it is paramount you use a clean needle and syringe and never share needles. During pregnancy, if living with HIV, your blood could pass into your baby’s body or post-birth through breast milk. However, HIV treatments virtually eliminate the risk of transmitting it to your child.
HIV can only be passed person to person if infected body fluids get into your bloodstream via unprotected sex, mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding, injecting drugs with a needle that has infected blood in it, infected blood donations or organ transplants. A current HIV vaccine is in the making but does not currently exist.
HIV kills a specific type of white blood cell called a T-helper cells or CD4 cells. The virus then makes copies of itself inside these cells, allowing the disease to exponentially spread.
AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and is not a virus. It’s a syndrome caused by the HIV. AIDS is also called advanced HIV infection or late-stage HIV. AIDS is characterized by a low T-cell count and the appearance of other infections. When a person is too weak to fight off infection, it is said they have AIDS. They develop characteristic symptoms and illnesses that develop after the HIV infection has destroyed their immune system.
AIDS is the last stage of HIV, when the infection is very advanced and, if left untreated, will lead to death. As testing and treatment for HIV becomes more available and part of regular health care, fewer people are developing AIDS.
It can take a long time for HIV to develop into AIDS, which now occurs only when left untreated. By average, it takes between 10 and 12 years to become AIDS. If HIV is detected before the patient develops AIDS, certain now available medicines can slow or even stop the damage to the immune system.
Though HIV was previously seen as ultimately fatal, modern medicinal advancements enable patients to live full lives. Still, symptoms must be addressed and patients must be particularly cautious with their health, as the disease is still chronic even when managed.
HIV symptoms vary by person and depend on the stage of the viral infection. During the first month of infection, most patients experience flu-like symptoms. This stage is referred to as primary HIV infection or Acute Retroviral Syndrome (ARS). At this stage, the body is having an initial reaction to the viral infection.
Once at the final stage of HIV, when diagnosed with AIDS, symptoms often include fever, swollen glands, rash, sore throat, fatigue, headache, muscle, and joint pain, and bodily discomfort.
Many AIDS sufferers are turning to the relief of the natural benefits of medical marijuana, not as a cure or to replace the benefits of current treatment, but to ease the pain, nausea, and loss of appetite that often accompany the traditional treatments.
As HIV compromises the immune system and the bodies natural defense shuts down, it struggles to combat diseases and opportunistic infections, such as tuberculosis, bronchitis, meningitis, influenza, and pneumonia.
Much like chemotherapy for cancer sufferers, traditional AIDS treatments involve powerful drugs that lead to vomiting, loss of appetite, and extreme bodily pain. Over the past decade, medical marijuana has shown it may help improve sleep, control nerve pain (neuropathy), increase appetite, prevent weight loss, and reduce nausea.
Additionally, medically marijuana has been thought to lessen stress, anxiety, and depression–via a sense of euphoria–which are all natural responses to HIV and HIV AIDS. Studies have shown that when patients have good mental health, their physical health, and overall well-being increases. When less burdened by the bleakness of stress, anxiety, and depression, patients are better able to live happy, long lives.
Though marijuana has proven medicinal value and is known to alleviate nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting and mimic drugs are used for these same medical concerns, each patient is different. Individuals require a health professional’s recommendation and dosage suited to them personally.
Nerve or neuropathic pain often decreases the quality of life of patients with HIV, even with opioid treatments. Cannabinoid receptors, easily targeted by cannabis and chemically-engineered mimic drugs, are located in the peripheral and central nervous system. They have been recently discovered to manage pain sensations sent to the brain and therefore our perception of pain. The cannabinoid receptors are also referred to as the endocannabinoid system, which is only recently being researched into its impact on nerve sensations.
Many clinical studies have found medical marijuana, at profound levels, reduces nausea and increases appetite. Cachexia (muscle wasting) is a common condition in those with the disease. Cannabis therapy has been proven effective in lessening nauseaand increasing weight to or stabilizing weight at a healthy level.
A Louisiana State study, published, in the AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses publication, that when THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) was given to monkeys, throughout 17 months, it resulted in less immune system damage in the digestive site. The gut immune tissue is a prime target of HIV.
The lead researcher of the Louisiana State study, Dr. Patricia Molina, states, “It adds to the picture and it builds a little bit more information on the potential mechanisms that might be playing a role in the modulation of the infection.”
Many HIV and specifically HIV AIDS sufferers are known to self-medicate by smoking cannabis. While it’s completely reasonable to seek relief, smoking cannabis can lead to other health complications. Ideally, medical options would be more widespread in availability so a healthier alternative would be viable for all sufferers.
According to Clinton A. Werner, The AIDS epidemic and initial lack of effective treatments led to the politicization HIV AIDS patient population. They began to demand research, quicker development, and access to more promising medications.
After many AIDS patients demanded marijuana to treat their loss of appetite and wasting syndrome, from both illness and medications, United States federal government’s Public Health Service closed the only legal source of supply (Compassionate Use Investigational New Drug IND program). The federal authorities lack compassion and repression of medical research birthed a grassroots movement that rejected federal regulations.
The political influence of the AIDS epidemic and sufferers of AIDS on the movement towards medical marijuana cannot be discounted. The grassroots movement worked to protect patients from arrest to protest. The American population, at large, began to then realize the injustice.
AIDS victims have been stigmatized since the first documented appearances of the disease in the United States. The first hints of the AIDS epidemic came to public notice at the end of the 1970s and in early 1980 when, in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, doctors began to see rare illnesses in young gay men.
Formerly referred to as Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID), the demonization of the queer community particularly young gay men formed public opinion on the AIDS epidemic. Medical professions had to discount this association when related symptoms were found in transfusion and intravenous drug users confirmed medically the infectious agent had nothing to do with sexual orientation.
Personal accounts are using qualitative data, but not quantitative data. Quantitative data is valued in medical and science communities–with valid reason. If someone says only 2% of users of a particular medicine experience a side effect, that specificity is required. However, numbers aren’t the base of emotion; human stories evoke emotion. Take these accounts as anecdotal but, as a result, personal.
The IOM team, when gathering data for the California cannabis buyers’ club, transcribed personal accounts of AIDS patients who turned to medical marijuana for relief. They cite a 41-year-old Virginia theater technician told them:
The amount of AIDS patients using medical marijuana are on the increase. Most suffer from loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, much like cancer patient’s response to chemotherapy.
Using cannabinoids, particularly medical cannabis, on both Cancer and AIDS patients would be useful, by the level of efficacy is yet to be formally tested. Some studies say medical marijuana is more effective than traditional anti-emetics. However, other studies say other antiemetics are more effective than THC. The scientific data is currently inconclusive.
Cachexia happens through tissue injury which can lead to tremendous decreased in tissue, like muscle or liver. Starvation, on the other hand, happens through the deprivation of food and nutrients. It can then cause a decrease in body fat. Cachexia requires management of the AIDS and medical stimulation of the patient’s metabolism.
Currently, A cannabinoid which has been evaluated for stimulating appetite in AIDS patients has been THC. Though, we are currently unable to confirm if medical marijuana, THC or otherwise, would be able to increase lean muscle mass and fight cachexia. It may just increase bodily fat percentage.
In six-week-long studies and year-long study, patients given Marinol, a mimic of THC, tended to have an increased their appetite and were able to regulate their weight.
When taken in tablet form, THC is slower to act in the patient’s body. Marinol has a long list of side effects, including headaches, vision problems, dizziness, feeling light-headed, fainting, irritability, nervousness, restlessness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or a fast heartbeat. It may also increase the risk of seizures.
Even if studies show that marijuana cannot reverse cachexia, it could potentially be helpful in treatment. Given marijuana has higher tolerability, but cannot be mixed with all prescription drugs, healthcare professionals would be best able to decide on a compelling mixture of treatments for their patients.