Study: Marijuana boosts HIV therapy adherence

January 05, 2005

David Ryan Alexander,

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HIV patients suffering from nausea adhere more closely to their HIV antiretroviral treatment regimens when using medical marijuana, according to a new study.

The study, titled 'Marijuana Use and Its Association with Adherence to Antiretroviral Therapy Among HIV-Infected Persons With Moderate to Severe Nausea,' was published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.

Out of 168 HIV patients who participated in the study and provided information about their adherence to their antiretroviral therapy, 41 participants used marijuana.

While the study did not reveal that marijuana use increased adherence to treatment overall, it did show that patients suffering from mild to severe nausea who use medical marijuana did adhere more greatly to their treatments.

As part of the study's results, the report stated that while 'examining subgroups of patients, among those with nausea, marijuana users were more likely to show an association with adherence than nonusers, while among those without nausea, marijuana use was lower associated with adherence'.

'It is the first real concrete indication that medical marijuana specifically helps HIV drug adherence,' said Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, a marijuana policy reform organisation.

'Essentially people experiencing nausea were staying on their anti-HIV cocktails more consistently ... which adds to the success of treatment.'

The study authors wrote, 'Adherence to medications is a challenge to any chronically ill patient and is critically important to HIV-infected individuals, as sustained high levels of adherence are required for long-term viral suppression.'

'If people can't tolerate drugs, they tend not to take them,' said Howard Grossman, executive director of the American Academy of HIV Medicine.

'And if they can tolerate the medications, they're usually going to try and take the pills the right way.'

Grossman added that 'many people don't find the same anti-nausea capabilities with Marinol (the synthetic form of a compound found in marijuana, THC), but when they smoke pot they do well.'

In contrast, the study also found that HIV patients not suffering from at least mild nausea who used medical marijuana were less likely to adhere to their treatment programs. Additional illicit drugs, which the study defined as heroin, cocaine and amphetamines, were shown to decrease adherence to treatment.

It found no correlation 'between adherence and gender, age, ethnicity, low quality of life, pain, or use of protease inhibitors or nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors.'

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