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What is HIV? Everyone has heard of it but not many people know exactly what it is or why it is so concerning. Tens of millions of people have died from the results of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Many of whom contracted it due to ignorance of HIV. It is now a manageable disease but it requires the use of drugs and lifestyle changes to keep the infected person and others safe.
HIV is related to the simian immunodeficiency virus. This is a virus that infects primates in Africa. At some point early in the last century, SIV mutated into HIV and spread to humans. This occurred through the hunting of chimpanzees and the hunters coming into contact with their blood. It slowly spread around the Democratic Republic of Congo until it reached cities and newly built roads.
By 1980, there were hundreds of thousands of people infected with the virus. It arrived in the USA several times and was present in the 1960’s. From there it spread across the world on trade routes. In 2017, there were an estimated 36.7 million people living with the disease. 20.9 million of whom are accessing antiretroviral drugs. Most people on antiretrovirals will live as long as healthy people. Those without access to treatment are likely to die a drawn out and painful death.
The human immunodeficiency virus is a retrovirus. A retrovirus is a form of virus that infects a cell by injecting a copy of the RNA code for itself into the target cell. HIV targets immune cells. When this RNA code is inserted into the cell, the cell itself mistakenly thinks that it is part of itself and converts the RNA into DNA, which is then inserted into the host cell DNA.
This is where it lies dormant until the right conditions are present, at which point the cell makes as many copies of the virus as it can and dies in the process. When the cell dies, it bursts, spreading new viruses across a wide area. These then go on to target other cells and the cycle continues. Most retroviruses are harmless (around 8% of human DNA is in fact from retroviruses).
HIV is deadly because it targets immune cells. The immune cells are the ones that might go around cleaning up the HIV but they are decimated by the virus. This allows the virus to spread quickly. When the levels of T-cells (the immune cells primarily targeted by HIV) drops, the body cannot fight off infections like it once could, so even common colds can be deadly.
Modern antiretroviral drugs are impressively effective. They cannot cure HIV because they would need to be able to see into the DNA of the host cell, which is hidden away in the nucleus. Antiretrovirals stop the replication of HIV, so whenever the virus thinks the conditions are right and starts to make copies of itself, this process is halted early on. Antiretrovirals have transformed HIV from a death sentence to a chronic, manageable condition. Many patients only need to take one pill a day.
There are side effects to the antiretrovirals that people take for HIV. Suppressed appetites are common. Depression is a possible consequence of the drugs and almost certainly the fact of being infected with a deadly and incurable disease. Studies have so far been relatively small regarding cannabis and HIV use, but they do indicate that “cannabinoids [are] a class of agents with the potential to improve quality of life and health care outcomes among patients with HIV/AIDS.”
Marijuana is a well-known appetite increaser, both raising the desire for food and the pleasure of eating. Weight loss is very common in people who have developed AIDS, the consequence of an HIV infection in its active phase. Managing weight is connected to survival, so any drug that helps people eat more is a helpful one.
One study found that people who used “marijuana for therapeutic purposes were significantly more likely than recreational-only users to have experienced HIV/AIDS-related illness or other illnesses in the past 12 months”. This suggests that people with the disease find that it is therapeutic. Considering the lengths they will go to in obtaining the often illegal drug, suggests that it is an effective and worthwhile drug to use.
The pain suffered by HIV/AIDS patients has not been shown to be relieved by marijuana use. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence to this effect. In one study of HIV infected people found that nearly 60 percent of them had used marijuana in the last 6 months. This is significantly higher than the healthy population.
Most had used the drug for recreational purposes, and most of them reported using the drug for both recreational and therapeutic effects. It is possible that the individuals in the study had found that where they had once used marijuana recreationally, they now found it to be therapeutic.
One study found that the symptoms of HIV/AIDS people used cannabis for included:
There is evidence from other studies that suggest marijuana is an effective antiemetic and can relieve neuropathic pain. Because of a lack of evidence, it is hard to make solid conclusions. Smoking cannabis is dangerous because smoking is dangerous. Vaping or eating it is preferable in terms of safety and are increasingly popular. Cannabis can help relieve pain, depression, nausea, and anxiety. An extract of cannabis, CBD, is particularly useful because it does not have psychoactive effects but does have anti-inflammatory and mood stabilizing effects. It is also very safe in the short and long-term, according to what evidence is available.