Pubdate: Fri, 11 Aug 2000 Source: Austin Chronicle (TX) Copyright: 2000 Austin Chronicle Corp. Contact: Website: Author: Sandy Bartlett


About AIDS

August 11, 2000: A while back we addressed the approval (at last!) of a clinical trial protocol for studying the impact of marijuana on HIV-positive people. There is strong anecdotal support for using marijuana as a treatment adjunct with several diseases, principally HIV and cancers, to address certain symptoms and drug side effects, such as nausea, appetite loss, weight loss, and stress. However, concerns (aside from legality) have been raised about marijuana suppressing immune function.

Study results were presented in July at the XIII International AIDS Conference in South Africa. Subjects either smoked THC content-controlled marijuana, took the drug Marinol (artificial THC), or took a placebo. (THC is marijuana's active ingredient.) All patients with undetectable viral loads (VL50/ml) remained undetectable; all those with measurable VL experienced some improvement. Obviously, then, pot does not negatively affect the immune system, or viral loads would have risen, not declined, among THC-consuming patients. (An argument might actually be made for the immune-boosting benefit of stress reduction, but that was not the study question.) An even more dramatic outcome was seen in caloric intake and weight gain: The THC consumers gained significantly, with smokers doing best. Maintaining weight and avoiding wasting are a major positive sign in HIV disease management.

The study was initiated by the National Institutes of Health, which supplied the controlled marijuana. The outcomes hardly surprise HIV+ people or their experienced physicians: The study shows no demonstrable negative immunologic impact from marijuana and, indeed, some benefit in weight gain. (Other lesser questions are still being investigated.) Now we need address the legal issues, and let medical science, not moralistic politics, drive clinical decisions.

For details, read the study's summary at