Cannabis in people with HIV: pros, cons and open questions

Mara Ruiz
Mara Ruiz

After decades of fierce opposition to the use of cannabis, international anti-drug policies are contemplating the possibility of decriminalizing its use, initially for medicinal purposes.

While this discussion takes place formally, daily experience reveals that many people with chronic conditions, such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, severe cases of epilepsy or HIV, use cannabis (marijuana) or its derivatives on a regular basis, since they It helps them reduce symptoms, improve appetite and manage mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

It is paradoxical that, until now, it has not been possible to formally study the effects of this plant in all these health conditions, since, being an illegal drug in most countries (a situation that has begun to change in recent years ), the research teams had no chance of obtaining the cannabis for their experiments without committing a crime.

However, the data obtained from practice have led, by word of mouth, to recommend the use of cannabis to alleviate certain symptoms associated with both diseases and their treatments, as is the specific case of HIV.

What do we know

Many people living with HIV report that cannabis has helped lessen the side effects of certain antiretroviral treatments, such as nausea, poor appetite, or insomnia. On the other hand, those who have been infected with the virus for a long time and have developed complications due to the progression of the infection find relief for different types of pain, such as discomfort due to neurological damage (peripheral neuropathy).

As Tim Murphy, an American writer specializing in HIV, points out in an article, studies have been carried out analyzing the experience of cannabis users, and their results have shown that many times the plant helps them more than any specific drug for any of the aforementioned discomforts. In addition, it is increasingly accepted that marijuana contributes to the treatment of depression and anxiety.

As the use of this plant has been decriminalized in certain countries – in Latin America this is the case of Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru – it has been possible to manufacture medicinal products derived from it that do not have a psychotropic effect, that is, They do not alter consciousness.

It is about cannabidiol or CBD, one of the substances that cannabis contains and that acts against pain, anxiety and lack of appetite, but does not cause the effect of being “out of the five senses”. Research is also beginning on its anti-inflammatory potential, which paradoxically is contrary to that of THC (the psychotropic substance in marijuana), which seems to promote inflammation.

Important precautions

Although cannabis use can bring benefits to address some symptoms of people with HIV, it also poses certain risks. For example, among the aforementioned studies, it was evidenced that 47% of those living with HIV and consuming cannabis experience impaired memory, a brain mechanism that is already affected by the virus itself.

On the other hand, smoking marijuana shares some of the carcinogenic risks of smoking tobacco, and this is very relevant for people with HIV because smoking has been shown to be much more harmful to those living with the virus than to those who do not. they got it. So if the form of consumption is through cigarettes, it is better to seriously reflect on the risk-benefit for health.

On this, Dr. Claudia Martínez, a research cardiologist at the University of Miami, United States, is conducting a study to find out if the use of cannabis somehow affects the risk of heart disease in people with HIV. It is well known that tobacco has important effects on heart health, and it is also common for people who smoke cannabis to do so inside a tobacco leaf, which would combine the risks.

In this way, the myth that cannabis does not cause any harm “because it is a natural product” will have to be demolished as more studies endorsed by scientific organizations are carried out. Only in this way will it be possible to know the true advantages and disadvantages of consuming marijuana, either medicinally or even recreationally.

Remember that scientific information is the best guide for making decisions about your health. If you are living with HIV and have questions about how to manage the side effects of treatment, your medical team is the one to guide you. If you already have a diagnosis and have not yet started your treatment, at AHF Latin America and the Caribbean we can help you. Just come to our offices in your country or write to us by Whatsapp and find out about our services.