What is HIV/AIDS?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus which can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) if not treated. HIV is a virus which attacks the immune system, the CD4 (T-Cells) in particular, which are responsible for helping fight off infections. When left untreated, HIV depletes the body’s CD4 (T-Cells), lowering the individuals immune system and making them more likely to contract other infections or even cancers.
There are three stages of HIV:
- Acute HIV Infection Stage – This stage occurs within 2 to 4 weeks of contracting HIV and appears as “flu-like symptoms” such as fever, swollen glands, rash, muscle and joint aches and pains, headaches, sore throat. During this stage, large amounts of virus are being produced in the body as the virus is able to replicate using CD4 cells before destroying them.
- Clinical Latency Stage – Once the infection has stabilized, it becomes latent and symptoms are reduced or can disappear entirely. During this stage, the virus continues to reproduce at low levels and is highly infectious. The risk of transmission is reduced by HIV treatments, which also help to prolong this stage and prevent the final stage: AIDS. The clinical latency stage lasts an average of 10 years when left untreated, but with treatment individuals can live their entire life without progressing. However, they are still at risk of transmitting the disease.
- AIDS – The final stage of HIV is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). This stage occurs when the immune system is damaged beyond repair, leaving the body vulnerable to opportunistic infections or cancers. Without treatment, the life expectancy of AIDS is 1-3 years. However, most individuals in developed countries never progress to this stage thanks to medication.
Current Treatment for HIV/AIDS
The most common treatment for HIV/AIDS is Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), which uses a regime of medications to help individuals suffering from HIV to live healthier and longer with their condition, than those not on antiretroviral protocols. The use of ART can also reduce the risk of transmission, however it cannot cure the infection.
How Cannabis Can Help
There are a number of ways that cannabis can help with managing the symptoms of HIV/AIDS.
Cannabis Stimulates Appetite
Individuals suffering from HIV/AIDS are often prone to weight loss. Cannabis has been well known for causing a phenomenon known as “the munchies”, resulting in a surge of hunger hormones. While this can be a frustrating side-effect for some, it is a welcome affect for many HIV/AIDS patients. In fact, a 2005 study determined that, of the individuals who used cannabis to manage their symptoms (27%), a total of 97% of patients found cannabis improved their appetite.
Cannabis Reduces Anxiety and Improves Mood
A condition such as HIV/AIDS can often lead to mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and even anger due to the pressure of coping with such an infection – as well as the social stigma connected to it. This is another area where cannabis can help HIV/AIDS patients as proven by a 2007 study, which concluded that cannabis was able to improve patients mood by increasing feelings of euphoria and boosting confidence.
Cannabis Can Alleviate Nausea
Nausea is a very common symptom of HIV and it can become increasingly volatile as symptoms progress. A study found that HIV-positive patients who experienced nausea were more likely to stick with their antiretroviral therapy if they used cannabis, compared to those who didn’t.
Cannabis Provides Chronic Pain Relief
HIV/AIDS can cause a multitude of joint, nerve and muscle pain. A one-year study found that patients who consumed standardized amounts of cannabis (12.5% THC) reported reduced pain and increased quality of life. The cannabis also resulted in reduced anxiety and depression and it improved feelings of fatigue.
Cannabis Decreases Peripheral Neuropathic Pain
In addition to chronic physical pain, HIV/AIDS can also cause peripheral neuropathic pain that results from damage to sensory, motor and autonomic nerves. A 2010 study found that treatments of 25mg of 9.4% THC three times per day, for five days, reduced pain and improved sleep. An additional study from 2015 found that the use of cannabinoids (such as THC) can reduce pain levels in relation to cancer and neuropathy.
Best Cannabis Strains for HIV/AIDS
While not intended to ever replace Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), there are some cannabis strains that are suited to helping manage the symptoms of HIV/AIDS as mentioned above. Depending on your most severe symptoms, Indica strains are best for appetite loss and physical pain while Sativa strains are ideal for helping with mood and anxiety.
Some of the best cannabis strains to consider for HIV/AIDS include:
A blend of Blueberry and an unknown Sativa, Blue Dream is a near-perfect blend resulting in an electrifying and energetic cerebral high that reduces fatigue and boosts mood. This is accompanied by a calming physical relaxation that leaves you pain free. Blue Dream is a great daytime option for HIV/AIDS patients looking to manage depression, chronic pain and insomnia.
Girl Scout Cookies
A favourite hybrid, Girl Scout Cookies is a well-loved strain that offers its users balanced effects. Many users experience a boost in mood, including happiness and euphoria, as well as potent physical effects. This strain is highly effective at managing both neuropathic or chronic pain and also produces the munchies, which is beneficial to many HIV/AIDS patients. This strain is also well suited to managing depression, stress and insomnia.
Mango Kush is an Indica-dominant strain with a 65:35 Indica/Sativa ratio. This strain packs a fruity punch and is widely used for managing insomnia, depression and pain. Providing a happy and uplifted cerebral high along with powerful physical effects, Mango Kush is a potent option for HIV/AIDS patients looking to promote mental and physical relaxation.
Despite being a predominantly Indica strain with an 85:15 Indica/Sativa ratio, Skywalker OG is a favourite thanks to its pleasurable effects. This strain produces a unique body high that is ideal for managing various types of chronic pain (including neuropathic) as well as depression, nausea and insomnia. Not only will Skywalker OG leave you relaxed and lethargic (with a mean case of the munchies), but the euphoric cerebral component will help take you to a galaxy far, far away.
White Widow is a 60:40 Sativa-dominant strain out of a South Indian Indica and South American Sativa. This strain produces a cerebrally driven euphoria that is combined with relaxing physical effects. HIV/AIDS patients will benefit from the relaxation that White Widow provides, as well as the euphoric and happy mental boost.
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