HIV is an incurable disease that affects millions of people worldwide. Many of the medications currently used to control and treat the symptoms of HIV cause unpleasant side effects that are hard on those affected. Recent research shows that CBD might be an effective, all-natural alternative to these harsh treatments. Read on to find out more.
When you think of the 80’s, you might think of rock and roll, neon, big hair, or parachute pants. But one defining detail of the decade that many forget is the devastating outbreak of HIV. When the virus was first seen, doctors had no idea how to treat it and HIV seemed to run rampant, turning into an epidemic by 1981.
Since then,vast research has been performed, and we now know ways to treat and manage HIV so that it’s not nearly as devastating and scary as it once was. However, HIV remains an ongoing issue that diminishes quality of life for many worldwide. As CBD continues to garner attention in the medical world, there is some evidence that it may be effective in the treatment of HIV. Keep reading to find out how CBD could be a natural remedy for many HIV symptoms.
What is HIV?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It’s a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells which help the immune system fight infections. Over time, the virus kills off so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off disease or infection at all. As the virus progresses, it can advance into AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). At that stage, the virus can be fatal, as the person becomes infected with diseases the immune system can no longer fight. Symptoms of HIV and AIDS include the following:
- Mouth ulcers
- Night sweats
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Memory loss
- Mood disorders
HIV is transmitted through the transfer of body fluids, including blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluid, rectal fluid, and breast milk. It is commonly spread through sex or the sharing of injection needles. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and nearly 1 out of 8 are unaware they are infected.
HIV and CBD
Research has shown that CBD can help treat symptoms of HIV through its interactions with the body’s endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body, which helps the body respond properly to internal and external factors. The ECS contains lipid mediators that stimulate CB1 and CB2 receptors to carry out central nervous system regulation, pain management, inflammation control, and more. When the body is infected with HIV, there are changes in these mediators and receptors that cause an imbalance and inhibit homeostasis, causing many HIV symptoms such as weight loss, lack of appetite, lethargy, etc. When CBD enters the body, it works with the ECS to reduce these symptoms. Additionally, CBD has been shown to alter immune responses in patients with HIV by stimulating the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the ECS to reestablish normal bodily reactions. In short, CBD works on two levels to improve the lives of those infected with HIV. On one hand, it slows the progression of the disease itself and, on the other hand, it makes the symptoms of the disease more tolerable. Let’s take a closer look at how it works on these levels.
Fighting HIV with CBD
Much of the research on CBD and HIV was performed by Robert Cook, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida. In his efforts to figure out how the cannabinoid could help control HIV, Cook learned that those who consumed cannabis had less of the virus in their blood as compared to non-users. Studies show that cannabinoids that target CB1 receptors are excellent at suppressing inflammation, which makes them a viable treatment for many inflammatory diseases. Research has also revealed that cannabinoids can work as immunosuppressants by reducing pDC activation and suppressing plasmacytoid dendritic cell functions during the early stages of infection. pDC activity has long been linked with the progression of HIV to AIDS.
Other studies have shown that the cannabis stimulation of CB2 receptors can block the signaling process between the HIV virus and the CXCR4, one of the principal receptor types that enables HIV to enter and infect a cell. As the disease progresses, the virus uses CXCR4 to speed up the infection process. However, when the research team stimulated the activation of CB2 receptors with cannabinoid receptor agonists, they hindered the virus’s ability to infect cells, causing an up to 60% reduction of infected cell frequency.
CBD and HIV Side Effects
As mentioned, HIV causes several symptoms and side effects that can be reduced with CBD use. Here are some ways CBD can be effective in improving the quality of life for those living with HIV.
Weight Loss: AIDS patients tend to experience considerable weight loss, also known as HIV wasting syndrome. This condition can result in a loss of more than 10% of body weight, in both muscle and fat, and is often accompanied by diarrhea, weakness, and fever. CBD can stimulate direct lipogenic action that improves and changes fat distribution in patients to minimize the loss of weight.
Nausea: Nausea is common in HIV infected individuals and can be a side effect of HIV wasting syndrome. CBD interacts with serotonin receptors to relieve the nausea and vomiting that HIV patients may be experiencing.
Pain and Inflammation: Muscle pain and inflammation are both common symptoms of HIV. CBD works with CB2 receptors to reduce pain and inflammation, making these symptoms more tolerable. In fact, CBD was found to reduce HIV-associated pain levels by 34% and chronic pain levels by approximately 72%.
Anxiety and Depression: Patients dealing with HIV are likely to feel anxious and depressed because of their diagnosis. CBD can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression by increasing levels of serotonin in the body.
HAND (HIV-associated Neurocognitive Disorder): Many of those infected with HIV are at risk of developing HAND, a disease characterized by a decline in brain function and movement skills, as well as shifts in behavior and mood. Although antiviral medications have been effective in reducing the occurrence of HAND, recent research shows that CBD’s ability to act as a neuroprotectant makes it another viable remedy. This ability of CBD to provide antioxidants and reduce inflammation makes it a promising treatment for several neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Similarly, these properties may work to reduce the risk of HAND in HIV infected individuals.
Interactions between CBD and HIV Medication
There are many drugs on the market designed to keep HIV from progressing. And many of them produce side effects that can range from unpleasant to downright dangerous. Side effects can range from pain, fever, digestive issues, and mood swings, to serious issues such as liver and kidney damage. CBD, on the other hand, produces little to no side effects, and the side effects that are produced tend not to be serious in nature.
Not only does CBD help to control HIV, while producing few side effects, but it also works to reduce the side effects caused by other medications. Steroids prescribed to control HIV can cause aggressive tendencies, but can be controlled by CBD’s soothing effects. The cannabinoid also increases cognitive clarity in those who experience brain fog with the use of certain medications.
Taking CBD for HIV
If you or a loved one is living with HIV and feel CBD might be a good option, it’s important to find a means of administration that works for you. Smoking CBD is recommended as it provides rapid relief and works to enhance appetite, alleviate nausea, and reduce pain in just minutes. If you don’t wish to inhale smoke, vaporizing is another way to administer CBD and only involves water vapor. This is recommended for those who might be experiencing throat discomfort, but are also looking for rapid relief. Edibles are another way to ingest CBD that may be effective. These are a tastier option and, although they are slower to take effect, tend to provide longer lasting results. We recommend talking to your provider to find out what strains will work best for you and are least likely to produce unwanted side effects.
States That Have Approved Medical Cannabis for HIV and AIDS
Because CBD and other cannabinoids have been shown to be effective in the treatment of HIV symptoms, nearly all U.S. states with medical cannabis laws have approved it for such use. These states include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. Maryland has approved medical cannabis for any condition or disease that causes chronic pain, and Washington, D.C. has approved it as long as it has been recommended by a state licensed physician for treatment.
As of today, there is no cure for HIV, but there are ways to reduce symptoms and slow it’s progression. CBD is an all-natural alternative to many medicines that can produce effective results with minimal side effects. If you or a loved one is suffering with HIV, consider using this cannabinoid to improve your quality of life.