The World Health Organization estimates that there are over 35 million people battling HIV worldwide. HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a condition of the immune system that is characterized by progressive weakening and is life-threatening. HIV causes those affected by the disease to feel extreme feelings of nausea, loss of appetite and experience drastic weight loss.
While medical advancements create potent antiviral drugs that have helped increase life expectancy and treatment with the disease, they do not help eradicate the its debilitating symptoms that plague HIV patients. Clinical Researchers have long sought for innovative solutions to help treat the virus, and have been widely unsuccessful. Recently, researchers have found a correlation between HIV and THC, the major psychoactive makeup of marijuana, and have tested it to prove its benefits.
In 2007, studies were designed at Columbia University testing how the inhalation of cannabis can help alleviate these symptoms. Their research found that food intake was significantly increased and the associated nausea had also subsided. Patients were becoming more comfortable as they ate and started to look healthier because of it. The study did not stop there. Cognitive improvements were documented through the absorption of THC. Memory was sharp and improving, quality of sleep was elevated and anxiety greatly subsided.
A year later, the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found the influence of medical cannabis to have even more benefits than previously known. Neuropathic pain that is related to the disease greatly decreased as a result of receiving THC. The CB2 receptor which connects to THC was primarily responsible for the improved immune system. The CB1 receptor was responsible for the high. The high was responsible for suppressing anxiety and increasing comfort level while sleeping.
In a study published in the journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, THC was further pointed out to be the major component in attacking HIV. This was found after doing a 17-month study on monkeys that have been infected by the disease. These monkeys had few healthy immune cells prior to receiving THC. After receiving THC, the cells were identified to have far more healthy cells than was previously expected. Monkeys were gaining weight and looked quite healthy, according to Dr. Patricia Molina, head of Louisiana State University’s Physiological Department.
Before conducting the experiment, Dr. Molina was hypothesizing that there would be some negative correlation between THC absorption and HIV. However, Molina points out how surprised she was when there was not one negative found. Molina went as far as to say, “When we started the study, we thought it was going to increase viral load and decrease lymphocyte counts much more dramatically. We did not see that. If anything, it looks like there might be some beneficial immunomodulation, particularly at the initial stages of infection.”
Molina’s work and the findings of each study signifies the growing role of cannabis in society. In the past, marijuana was labeled as a drug that did not provide any beneficial effects but rather harmful ones. As more and more research continues to be done, analyzing the role of medical marijuana not just on AIDS, but on other neurological conditions as well, we see a drastic shift in perspective. Doctors are more actively prescribing their patients’ medical marijuana because they believe in its purpose. They believe it can make a difference in so many ways and help combat ongoing side-effects that could otherwise never go away. It is now estimated that over 60 percent of HIV patients use medical cannabis and that number is only expected to grow in the near future.