Chapter 2 who claimed that marijuana calmed his stomach after taking medication, stimulated his appetite, eased his pain, and lifted his mood.
Because HIV attacks the immune system, it wreaks havoc throughout the body. Besides providing a foothold for opportunistic infection and cancer, the virus also triggers a potentially lethal wasting syndrome, painful nerve damage, and dementia. Finally, in addition to the physical discomforts inflicted by HIV, many people with AIDS also struggle with depression and anxiety. Marijuana, some patients say, eases all of these problems and more.
Even the recent success of combination therapy—which, by keeping HIV in check, has transformed AIDS from a terminal illness to a chronic disorder—has a downside. The very drugs that give people with HIV a future can make their day-to-day life miserable. As this 41-year-old Virginia theater technician told the IOM team:
Thirteen years ago I found out that I was HIV-positive. Since then I have taken AZT, ddI, d4T, Crixivan, Viracept, Viramune, Bactrim, Megace, and others. All these drugs have two things in common: they gave me hope and they also made me sick. Nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, vomiting, and loss of appetite became a way of life for me.
After three years of these side effects ruling my life, a doctor suggested a simple and effective way to deal with many of them. This remedy kept me from slowly starving to death, as I had seen many of my friends do. It helped me rejoin the human race as a responsible, productive citizen. It also made me a criminal, something I have never been before. This remedy, of course, is medical marijuana.
Like this man, increasing numbers of AIDS patients appear to be using marijuana to counteract the side effects of prescribed medicines as well as to treat disease symptoms. In particular, those who take highly effective antiviral drugs called protease inhibitors often suffer from nausea and vomiting similar to that experienced by cancer patients during chemotherapy.
Just how effectively marijuana and cannabinoids reduce the