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Cannabis & HIV | Health

In the state of Arizona, one of the medical conditions that qualifies a person to get their medical marijuana card is being HIV + or having AIDS. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and this retrovirus affects and lowers specific cells of the immune system, including the  (CD4 T cells) with the end result leading to infections running rampant in the body which chronically can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) and death. Side effects from being HIV + are fever, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and diarrhea which can result in weight loss. These are only the physical symptoms. The emotional and mental symptoms of being HIV+ include depression, anxiety, shame, guilt, isolation and insomnia to name a few.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) are medicines specific to treating HIV and can minimize the spread of HIV and help control it from progressing to AIDS. Medical Marijuana can help the symptoms of weight loss, pain, fatigue, nausea, insomnia, inflammation and can lead to normal weight gain.  THC, the main component in marijuana, has been researched to show that it can help prevent HIV to progressing to AIDS by influencing cells and components in the immune system. Topical MMJ rubs and ointments can help with pain and MMJ provides an alternative to narcotics, NSAIDS and other pain relievers that have negative side effects.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, when HIV became prevalent among gay men and i.v. drug users, those people who were diagnosed as being HIV+ were basically given a death sentence and the social reaction was that of extreme fear. But, a Princess would change that perception. Princess Diana of Wales visited AIDS patients in hospitals and she shook their hands (without her wearing gloves) and this was at the time, considered a “profound gesture” because it was originally thought and feared that HIV could be transmitted through touch. When pictures and video of her touching AIDS patients was seen, her compassion, bravery and human kindness were a turning point in how the world viewed AIDS. It is now known that an HIV + person can spread the virus to another person through blood, by having unprotected sex, sharing i.v. drug needles, and an HIV+ mother can transmit the virus to her baby during pregnancy or breast-feeding.

The Fast-Tract Cities Initiative began on World AIDS Day in 2014. In 2016, the Phoenix City Council had a 7 to 0 vote to approve joining the world’s 90-90-90 zero national effort to end AIDS. This initiative includes 90 cities worldwide and the goal of the initiative is to achieve the following by 2020:

  1. 90% of people living with HIV know their status (that they are HIV +)

  2. 90% of people living with HIV are on antiretroviral therapy (ART)

  3. 90% of people living with HIV on ART are achieving viral suppression

  4. Zero stigma and discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS

In the words of mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix, “ There does not need to be one new AIDS infection in Phoenix. It’s a public health crisis that our community can and will eradicate. This is a time to redouble our efforts to educate the public without stigma on how HIV is spread and educate those who have contracted on how to get treatment and stay in treatment.”

One organization in Phoenix that is devoted to helping improve the lives of people living with HIV is Joshua Tree Feeding Program. This food pantry located in the heart of Phoenix, is run solely by volunteers. It is a social gathering place for adults on Wednesdays from 10am to noon where any HIV+ person living in Maricopa and Pinal counties can select from a wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as non-perishable foods. Personal hygiene products are also available as well as free pet food.  On Tuesdays, Joshua Tree provides food baskets to the family’s of children living with HIV/AIDS and who are patients at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Joshua Tree hosts 4 annual lunches a year for the HIV community and they feed 100-120 people each week. Joshua Tree is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. They rely solely on donations and volunteer support. Donations are accepted in person, by mail or through:

May the social stigma that is still present against the HIV+ community be lifted through education and compassion to assure that people living with HIV are treated with respect and with the best forms of medicine and treatment options.

To read more articles from Dr. Landino, click here.



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