There are few diseases and medical conditions that have been as misunderstood and stigmatized as HIV and AIDS. Little was known about the two conditions throughout the 1980s and early 90s, leading to public fear and the misguided belief that only gay men and intravenous drug users could contract the viruses.
After more than 30 years of activism, awareness, research, and medical advancements, HIV and AIDS are no longer the death sentences they once were. Thanks to a variety of pharmaceutical and homeopathic treatments, millions of people with HIV and AIDS are able to live relatively healthy and full lives. Cannabis was one of the first natural treatments to provide relief from HIV and AIDS-related symptoms and continues to be highly regarded by both patients and physicians alike.
Early pharmaceutical treatments had similar side effects to chemotherapy: nausea and loss of appetite, extreme fatigue, and pain. Many patients also suffered from what became known as “HIV wasting syndrome,” which was characterized by extreme weight loss and muscular atrophy that made it difficult for patients to move or even sit up in bed. This led to early AIDS doctors to begin recommending cannabis to ease nausea and stimulate appetites, with hopes of fighting off the causes of wasting syndrome. At the time, medical cannabis was illegal throughout the United States – however, after decades of research, clinical trials, and changing societal attitudes, medical cannabis is now common source of relief for people living with HIV and AIDS.
Cannabis for HIV/AIDS
The benefits of cannabis for HIV and AIDS patients go beyond preventing and treating wasting syndrome. Cannabis is helpful in managing the degenerative nerve and chronic pain associated with the diseases, as well as digestive issues, insomnia, and the emotional effects of an HIV or AIDS diagnosis like anxiety and depression. Early AIDS activists and patients described medical cannabis as a way to have control over, and even enjoy, their final days. Recent studies have shown potential for certain cannabinoids to inhibit the progression of HIV and the AIDS virus; opening the door for the possibility that cannabis could be used to not only manage symptoms, but actually treat the diseases themselves. As with any cannabis-based treatment, more research is needed, and patients should always work with a qualified physician to determine if medical cannabis is right for them.