According to Health Canada, the estimated number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the country reached between 54,000 and 76,000 in 2014. It is also estimated that a fifth of Canadians living with HIV have not yet been diagnosed.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) attacks and ultimately breaks down the human immune system which we rely on to protect us from various bacteria and illnesses. If HIV is left untreated, it can have such an effect on the immune system that the body can no longer protect itself from the outside world.

There are treatments that are available for those who are diagnosed with HIV, allowing them to lead full and normal lives. Treatment is often in the form of antiretroviral medications. These treatments however carry with them some side effects that many will experience throughout treatment. Some of the side effects include:

  • Hypersensitivity to pain
  • Pain, numbness and tingling in the extremities
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Unintentional weight loss

Studies on medicinal cannabis in relation to treating the side effects of antiretroviral medications have shown that there are some benefits to using medicinal cannabis simultaneously with antiretroviral treatments.

Medicinal cannabis has been shown to help ease the neuropathic pain associated with HIV/AIDS as well as the numbness and pain associated with antiretroviral treatment.

It is estimated that 30% of those who are living with HIV will develop some level of neuropathic pain. While antiretroviral treatment is a powerful tool in the fight against HIV, antiretroviral treatments do little to help alleviate neuropathic pain.

Research conducted in San Diego, California addressed this subject. Participants with HIV related neuropathic pain who had not responded to conventional medication to treat neuropathic pain were given THC to be smoked, while others were given a placebo. The group of participants who were given THC cannabis to smoke reported significantly greater pain relief versus the placebo group. The study concluded that the maximum THC dose (1-8% THC) significantly reduced the intensity of the HIV neuropathic pain in participants compared to the placebo group.

Participants who received THC cannabis also reported a decrease in mood disturbances, physical disability, and an overall improvement in their quality of life.

Medical studies are still being done in North America on the effects of medicinal cannabis to better understand the outcomes and potential benefits of cannabis for those who are living with HIV/AIDS.

If you feel that you may benefit from the use of medicinal cannabis, talk to your primary care physician about your options.