Back in the 1980s and 1990s, when the HIV/AIDS epidemic was at its peak, patients and their loved ones were desperate to find anything to ameliorate the symptoms of the disease. Wasting is a common symptom of AIDS. When medical marijuana was found to help reduce nausea and vomiting, it became an issue of patients rights far and wide.
Patients' life expectancy improved with the advent of antiretrovirals, such as AZT, but some of the most common side effects of these medications are nausea and vomiting. These are often severe enough to compromise medication adherence, and contribute to further wasting. Patients found that marijuana both reduced nausea and stimulated appetite, increasing the amount of calories they consumed and preventing excessive weight loss.
In 2007, a study by Columbia University backed up the anecdotal evidence. Researchers found that both orally administered and smoked cannabis significantly stimulated appetite, increasing the caloric intake of HIV/AIDS patients.
That same year, researchers at San Francisco General Hospital and the University of California's Pain Clinical Research Center found that cannabis reduced neuropathic pain by some 34 percent, and that it was comparable to pharmaceuticals currently used to treat neuropathy. This finding was validated in a 2008 study from the University of California.
The nausea and vomiting associated with HIV/AIDS and the medications used to treat these symptoms are linked to the enteric nervous system, which controls the gastrointestinal tract. Cannabinoids act on receptors in the enteric nervous system to ameliorate symptoms. While inhaled cannabis may be more effective in combating neuropathic pain, oral dosage appears to be most effective in managing nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
Oral administration offers a variety of possibilities. Cannabis has historically been added to sweets, such as candy, brownies and cookies, in an effort to appeal to those with little or no appetite. However, even lollipops can be effective for those who experience problems with solid food.
Medical marijuana can be extremely beneficial for those living with HIV/AIDS. Even low doses of THC-heavy cannabis help stimulate appetite and reduce weight loss.