HIV is not the death sentence that it used to be. Modern treatments are capable of prolonging the lives of people who are infected with HIV. Furthermore, they reduce the risk of passing it on to others.
However, even with proper treatment, HIV positive patients can suffer some adverse effects due to their condition. These may include symptoms of the disease itself as it progresses or the side effects of medication.
Research suggests that many HIV positive people use cannabis as a means of coping with their condition. This could include the use of CBD, a cannabis-derived compound that has soared in popularity in recent years.
But while cannabis and CBD may help with some issues that HIV patients face, they might negatively impact their already weakened immune systems.
So, what is the deal regarding CBD and HIV?
What Is HIV?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is a retrovirus, meaning that it changes the DNA of the body’s cells to reproduce. HIV affects T-cells, an essential component of the human immune system. This reduces patients’ immunity and leaves them vulnerable to further infections.
If HIV is not treated effectively, it can progress into AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), which is a life-threatening condition. However, HIV treatments have advanced considerably since the disease was first identified in the 1980s. It is now extremely treatable, providing patients take the right medication as soon as possible after infection.
The virus is spread from person to person via infected body fluids. The most common methods of transmission are unprotected sexual intercourse or sharing hypodermic needles.
Symptoms of HIV and AIDS
The first symptoms of HIV usually appear 2–4 weeks after infection. These include flu-like symptoms, such as:
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Mouth ulcers
The symptoms can last for a few days or several weeks. However, some people never experience any HIV symptoms at all. This is why it is crucial to get tested for HIV if you think you may have been exposed to the virus.
If HIV progresses into AIDS, several more symptoms can occur. These include:
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Sores around the mouth, anus, or genitals
- Blemishes on the skin
- Memory loss
- Neurological problems
People with AIDS are also at high risk of further infections and pneumonia. This is extremely dangerous and can be fatal, as their immune systems are not strong enough to fight off infections.
Fortunately, doctors can now treat HIV effectively using medication called antiretroviral therapy. They usually prescribe a combination of different drugs, and these can be adjusted over time to ensure that they remain effective.
Doctors can tell whether these medications are working effectively by monitoring their patient’s CD4 count. This is a measure of how many T-cells are circulating in the blood. A healthy CD4 count is between 500 and 1600 cells per cubic milliliter of blood. If a patient’s CD4 count falls below 200, their doctor will classify them as having AIDS.
Prophylactic treatments are also available for preventing HIV in people who may have been exposed to the virus. At-risk patients should take these medicines as soon as possible to increase the chances of them working.
How Does CBD Affect HIV?
Many patients with HIV and AIDS use cannabis to help with symptoms such as weight loss and neuropathic pain. However, not everyone enjoys using cannabis due to its powerful psychoactive effects. Therefore, those in search of a natural, non-intoxicating treatment for HIV may be tempted to turn to CBD.
CBD is a chemical that the cannabis plant produces, but it is free from intoxicating effects. This is because the chemical which causes the classic marijuana ‘high’ is THC. Most commercial CBD preparations contain just trace amounts of this cannabinoid, meaning that they have no psychedelic effects.
For this reason, CBD has become incredibly popular in recent years. Proponents claim that it can help everything from diabetes to epilepsy, thanks to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective effects.
One of the most common ailments that people use CBD for is chronic pain, such as arthritis. It appears to be highly effective for these conditions as it reduces activity in the immune system to dampen the inflammatory response.
The fact that CBD works as an immunosuppressant suggests that this cannabis compound may be harmful to people whose immune systems are compromised. This includes people with HIV and AIDS. In fact, there is some evidence that cannabis increases viral activity and disease.
However, as with so many things in the world of medicine, things are not as straightforward as they seem. Let’s take a look at the research on HIV and CBD.
Research on CBD and HIV
To date, there is little research specifically on CBD for HIV. However, several studies look at HIV and cannabis use in general. Unfortunately, the results of these studies are incredibly mixed, making it hard to draw any firm conclusions.
One 2002 study noted no significant changes in the immune systems of HIV patients who used cannabis or the synthetic cannabinoid, dronabinol (Marinol). However, the study lasted just 21 days, which is unlikely to be long enough to provide an accurate picture. A similar study from 2003 had comparable findings.
A 2008 longitudinal study on HIV-positive and HIV-negative men followed its participants for 11 and 18 years, respectively. It found that cannabis use led to a 1% decrease in CD4 counts in the uninfected men, and a 5% decrease in CD8 count in those with HIV. While people with HIV usually have lower than average CD4 counts, their CD8 counts may increase as the disease progresses.
Although these results are interesting to note, the study’s authors concluded that there were no “clinically meaningful associations, adverse or otherwise, between the use of marijuana… and T cell counts and percentages in either HIV-uninfected or HIV-infected men.”
Finally, a 2016 study found that cannabis use increased the number of circulating CD4 cells and decreased viral load. The authors also suggested that HIV-positive patients suffered greater cognitive impairments after using cannabis than their HIV-negative counterparts. However, the study did not involve enough participants to make any meaningful conclusions.
All of these studies had issues with their methodologies, and there is a significant disparity in their results. Therefore, until further studies emerge, it is impossible to say for sure whether cannabis and CBD help or hinder HIV.
CBD and HIV: Final Thoughts
The relationship between CBD, the immune system, and HIV is a complex one. The current research does little to shed light on the situation, leaving many patients wondering how to treat their condition best.
Furthermore, CBD can interact with many different medications, including antiretroviral therapy. This is because the liver metabolizes both substances through its CYP3A4 enzyme. This shared pathway means that there is a high chance that either of these two substances could affect the way the other works.
We advise anyone thinking about using cannabis or CBD to treat HIV to have an in-depth discussion with their physician. They will be able to assess each patient’s case individually and determine whether cannabis therapy is safe for them. They will also monitor their condition closely to ensure that there are no adverse effects.