Cannabis helps to improve the lives of many people living with HIV/AIDS. Its effects help manage appetite loss, wasting, nausea, vomiting, pain, anxiety, stress, depression, and other symptoms of both the disease and the anti-retroviral regimes used to treat it. As many as one in four people living with HIV/AIDS use cannabis for medical purposes69. An international group of nursing researchers has determined from a longitudinal, multi-country, multi-site, randomized-control clinical trial that cannabis is frequently used to manage the six common symptoms of HIV/AIDS. The 2009 study found that a significant percentage of those with HIV/AIDS find cannabis effective for anxiety, depression, fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, and peripheral neuropathy. Researchers note that “those who did use marijuana rate it as effective as prescribed or over the counter medicines for the majority of common symptoms....70” In addition to easing symptoms of the disease, cannabis has proven to be effective in controlling unpleasant effects of the drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS. People living with HIV/AIDS who use cannabis to combat the side-effects of the Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy, more commonly know as HAART, are approximately three times more likely to remain on their prescribed drug therapies than those who do not use cannabis, according to a 2007 study71.

In the 1970s, a series of human clinical trials established that cannabis stimulates food intake and weight gain in healthy volunteers, a finding confirmed by numerous subsequent studies. In a randomized trial in people living with AIDS, THC significantly improved appetite and nausea in comparison with placebo. There were also trends towards improved mood and weight gain. Unwanted effects—dry mouth, drowsiness and anxiety—were generally mild or moderate in intensity72-74. The Institute of Medicine’s comprehensive review in their report Marijuana and Medicine concluded, “[f]or patients such as those with AIDS or who are undergoing chemotherapy and who suffer simultaneously from severe pain, nausea, and appetite loss, cannabinoid drugs might offer broad-spectrum relief not found in any other single medication.”

An FDA-approved preliminary safety trial of smoked cannabis, conducted in 2003 at the University of California, San Francisco, concluded that neither synthetic THC nor inhaled cannabis had any significant effect on the immune system or viral load. Moreover, the researchers noted that study participants who used cannabis gained weight74. Cannabinoids may also inhibit the spread of the HIV virus within the body by acting on CD4+ T cells, which are critical to immune function and a target of the virus. A 2012 study found that a cannabinoid that activates CB2 receptors produced a dose-specific reduction of HIV infection of up to 50%, leading the researchers to suggest that the therapeutic use of cannabinoids may help fight the spread of the virus to uninfected T cells in late stages of HIV-1 infection75. Previous research has shown that the use of cannabinoid drugs in patients with HIV is associated with an increase in CD4+ T cell number and has been shown to reduce viral load in an animal model of HIV.


Abrams, D. I. et al. Short-term effects of cannabinoids in patients with HIV-1 infection: a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Ann. Intern. Med. 139, 258–266 (2003).