The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a type of virus that leads to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV invades the cells of human beings, weakening the immune system and making the victim highly susceptible to opportunistic infections. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50,000 people contract HIV each year, while there are about 35 million people living with HIV worldwide as of 2013.
The use of medical marijuana or cannabis by those with HIV/AIDS dates as far back as the early 1970s, especially in the San Francisco area where HIV/AIDS was prevalent. It was put into candy, brownies and cookies to help stimulate the appetite of HIV patients. Cannabis was successfully used to manage the wasting syndrome associated with HIV/AIDS, which invariably resulted in severe weight loss prior to the advent of protease-inhibitor drugs. Protease inhibitors block the activity of the protease enzyme used by the HIV virus to wreak havoc on the immune system. AIDS wasting syndrome further weakened already sick victims, leaving them even more vulnerable to the effects of opportunistic infections.
Cannabis served as an alternative form of medication for this condition, due to its ability to stimulate appetite and to help in the management of other AIDS/HIV symptoms. Clinical tests on the safety of cannabis on HIV/AIDS patients include the one conducted in 1999 at the University of San Francisco which demonstrated that cannabis did not interfere with the effectiveness of protease inhibitors when inhaled, and actually helped them gain weight.
In 1992, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Dronabinol, a drug that is chiefly composed of synthetic THC, one of the active compounds found in medical marijuana. A clinical trial in 1991 prior to the approval of the drug showed that more than 70% of those administered with the drug gained weight. The only problem was that the oral method of administration was not as effective as the inhalation method, which allowed for faster absorption.
A clinical study was conducted between 2003 and 2005 by the University of California San Diego in the United States to determine the effect of smoked cannabis on HIV-associated pain (HIV-SN). It showed that cannabis effectively relieved HIV-related chronic neuropathic pain. According to an interview with the chief of oncology at San Francisco General Hospital, Dr. Donald Abrams, inhaled cannabis can help manage the painful neuropathy associated with HIV/AIDS.
Cannabis has been shown as an effective palliative treatment for the symptoms of HIV/AIDS in many clinical trials. It now remains to be seen whether those clinical results will lead to a change in the law that currently lists marijuana as a controlled substance.