Medical Marijuana & HIV/AIDS
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Q: How is medical marijuana used by people with HIV/AIDS?
marijuana is commonly used to relieve nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss
sometimes caused by HIV infection or by medications used to treat HIV. Research
has consistently found that these side effects are the leading reason patients
interrupt or discontinue antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Q: Has medical marijuana been studied in HIV/AIDS patients?
foot-dragging by federal authorities delayed needed research for years, two
clinical trials have been completed and more are underway. Other information is
available from observational studies. Results thus far have been consistently
positive. A landmark study conducted at San Francisco General Hospital looked
at the safety of medical marijuana use by patients on stable ART regimens and
showed no adverse effects on viral load, CD4, or CD8 counts, while the patients
using marijuana gained more weight than those receiving a placebo.1
An observational study published in January 2005 found that patients
experiencing ART-related nausea adhered to their drug regimens more
consistently if they used marijuana.2 A study published in the
journal Neurology in February 2007
reported that smoked marijuana "effectively relieved chronic pain from
HIV-associated sensory neuropathy," with few side effects.3
Q: I've heard that marijuana may be harmful to the immune
system. Is it a danger to people with HIV/AIDS?
are based on test tube studies, often using enormous doses, rather than on
studies of actual patients. In the San Francisco General Hospital study
described above, patients using medical marijuana not only showed no signs of
immunological damage, they actually gained more CD4 and CD8 cells than those
receiving a placebo.
Q: What do leading HIV/AIDS experts say about medical
HIV/AIDS organizations overwhelmingly believe seriously ill patients should be
allowed to use medical marijuana without fear of arrest. The American Academy
of HIV Medicine has stated, "When appropriately prescribed and monitored,
marijuana/cannabis can provide immeasurable benefits for the health and
well-being of our patients."4 Other supportive organizations
include AIDS Action, Gay Men's Health Crisis, National Association of People
With AIDS, AIDS Project Los Angeles, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Test Positive,
Aware Network, AIDS Project Rhode Island, the New York State AIDS Advisory
Council, Project Inform, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and many others.
Q: Do other medical and public health experts agree?
Yes. In a 1999
report commissioned by the White House, the National Academy of Sciences'
Institute of Medicine wrote, "Nausea, appetite loss, pain, and anxiety are
all afflictions of wasting and all can be mitigated by marijuana."5
The American Public Health Association, American Nurses Association, and the
state medical societies of New York, California, and Rhode Island are just a
few of many medical organizations supporting legal access to medical marijuana.
Prominent individuals supporting medical marijuana access include former U.S.
Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, San Francisco Director of Health Dr. Mitch
Katz, and Dr. Kenneth Mayer, director of Brown University's AIDS program.
Q: What is the legal status of medical marijuana?
— Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan,
Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Rhode
Island — and Washington, D.C. permit the medical use of marijuana if certain
legal requirements are followed. Unfortunately, federal law still classifies
marijuana as having no medical use and as being too dangerous to use even under
medical supervision. This is unscientific and harmful to people with HIV/AIDS
and other serious illnesses.
Q: What is being done to change the laws?
Policy Project works at both the state and federal levels to enact marijuana
laws based on science, compassion, and common sense. Sign up for MPP's free email alerts to learn about legislation that
D., et al, "Short-Term Effects of Cannabinoids in Patients with HIV-1
Infection," Annals of Internal Medicine, August 19, 2003.
B.C., et al, "Marijuana Use and its Association With Adherence to
Antiretroviral Therapy Among HIV-Infected Persons With Moderate to Severe
Nausea," Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes,
January 1, 2005.
Academy of HIV Medicine, letter to New York Assemblyman Richard Gottfried,
November 11, 2003.
D.I., et al, "Cannabis in painful HIV-associated sensory
neuropathy," Neurology, February 13, 2007.
J., Watson, S., and Benson, J., "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing
the Science Base," National Academy Press, 1999.