Can Medical Cannabis Help HIV/AIDS Patients?

Medical marijuana currently has a strong case for treating seizures and chronic pain- but what about HIV/AIDS? Many have cited Penny F. Whiting’s report Cannabinoids for Medical Use. Whiting’s thorough investigation on the benefits/risks of medical marijuana was published last month in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Of the 79 clinical studies, four focused primarily on appetite stimulation in HIV/AIDS patients.

Whiting found “moderate-quality” evidence regarding neuropathic pain, cancer-related pain, and spasticity- the most noticeable benefits. Lower quality evidence was found for other symptoms including nausea and weight gain in HIV/AIDS patients.

Whiting preferred using Dronabinol in her research over smoked plants. She found it almost impossible to accurately gauge inhaled marijuana in a research setting. Whiting found that HIV-positive candidates that took Dronabinol versus a placebo showed “some evidence” of weight gain. Whiting adds that she sees potential in areas that are lacking evidence.

Whiting says “Further large, robust, randomized clinical trials are needed to confirm the effects of cannabinoids, particularly on weight gain in patients with HIV/AIDS, depression, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, psychosis, glaucoma, and Tourette syndrome.” Whiting’s results in the abstract states “Most trials showed improvement in symptoms associated with cannabinoids..” although some fell short of “statistical significance.”

Prohibitionist media sources have concluded this indicates that the efficacy of medical marijuana for certain symptoms is built on hype.

Over 30% of HIV/AIDS patients also suffer from neuropathic pain(which showed higher benefit in Whiting’s study). Other studies indicate that there’s a higher benefit across the board for medical marijuana in HIV/AIDS patients suffering from neuropathy. Secondly, another study indicated that inhaled marijuana increased the probability of weight gain in cannabis smokers as a whole. Furthermore, there’s extensive studies that suggest that marijuana helps block HIV replication before a patient ever progresses to AIDS wasting syndrome.

Appetite stimulation is only one of the ways medical marijuana can help those infected with HIV. Penny F. Whiting and pro-cannabis activists want the same thing- more funding and more clinical research.