Living High with HIV

How Medical Marijuana Rivals Mainstream HIV Medicine

By BenBot

In 2011, I was diagnosed with HIV. An unmarked van was compensating $90 for an HIV test to random guys off the street. When I saw the red plus- sign on the results card, I couldn’t breathe.

Medical marijuana saved my life. When I started eating THC-laced foods in addition to smoking, I had dramatic results. My HIV viral load dropped 60,000 cells in two weeks. Why are HIV medications like Atripla (which  causes a false positive in a THC drug test) legal, when medical marijuana will get me fired?

Atripla is the most common HIV medication. Atripla is actually three drugs: emtricitabine/tenofovir/efavirenz. The most notable of these three is Sustiva, the brand name for Efavirenz. Efavirenz has psychedelic side effects that usually last two weeks. Side effects include hallucinations, lucid dreaming, and more. Atripla is not given to patients susceptible to psychosis, depression, and schizophrenia. Efavirenz is also the drug that causes false-positive THC and Valium in drug tests. That is why Atripla is recom- mended to be taken before bedtime. In nations like South Africa, where HIV positive rates are  high,  Efavirenz  tablets are ground up and sold as “Whoonga” on  the street. People there purchase the cheap generic Indian ver- sion Efavir online without a prescription. Brave HIV-neg- ative people smoke or snort ground-up Efavir or Stocrin for a psychedelic experience.

According to an AIDS journal, The Body, South  African  AIDS a d v o c a t e Ntombizonke Ndlovu said, “People as young as 13, 14, and 15 [are] getting mixed up in this whoonga thing. Crime is growing like crazy.” Efavirenz

access is the silver lining to an HIV diagnosis. There are tales   of  whoonga   addicts   intentionally   infecting them-

selves with HIV in order to get a prescription. Some locals say there’s a lot of hype, and a great deal of the whoonga on the street is heroin sold as fake whoonga. An astonish- ing 10% of South Africans are HIV positive or suffering from AIDS. Efavirenz abuse is growing in  America  as  well, mostly among HIV-positive patients. According to The Neuroskeptic March 1 edition, “Efavirenz inhibits three [enzymes]: CYPs, 2C9, and 3A4. All three are involved in the breakdown of THC, so, in  theory, Efavirenz might boost the effects of marijuana by this mechanism.”

Once I learned that Atripla will make a drug test show up as positive for THC, I knew I had to get it. That meant I couldn’t get fired for smoking marijuana, because how could they tell if the drug presence was indeed marijuana or the Atripla? HIV-positive patients that take Atripla can get a note from their doctor excusing a THC-positive drug test. Many of my positive friends already knew this.

Atripla is much more effective than HIV drugs in the past. In the 80s and 90s, doctors were giving HIV-positive patients drugs like AZT, which probably aided in destroy- ing their immune systems. Medical marijuana aids by con- trolling nausea caused by the HIV medication itself,  and it’s effective for peripheral neuropathy even in healthy HIV patients. Peripheral neuropathy is especially hard to treat. Marijuana alleviates neuropathic pain, even in tiny doses. There is no better medication than marijuana for appetite stimulation, neuropathy, and nausea.

With all the side effects of HIV medication, quality  of life  is another consideration. According to Science Daily, University of California San Francisco studied the effects on 775 HIV-positive patients from around the globe. The findings were extremely positive. The only symptom marijuana didn’t help with was fatigue, for obvious reasons. Researcher Inge Corless says, “Given that marijuana may have other pleasant side effects and may be less costly than prescribed or OTC drugs, is there a reason to make  it more available… Our data indicates that the use of marijuana merits further inquiry.”

The October 8, 2007, edition of Reason magazine featured an article where the American Academy of HIV Medicine (AAHIVM) stated: “When appropriately prescribed and monitored, marijuana/cannabis can provide immeasurable benefits for the health and well-being of our patients.”

Modern HIV medication is called HAART (Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy.) HAART is usually a combination of drugs including protease inhibitors. Since HIV cells mutate easily and attach to human DNA, all  medication can do is cut off the “food supply.” Protease is an enzyme or “food” HIV needs to live. Protease inhibitors have so many risks that doctors usually delay treatment until it’s absolutely necessary. Side effects include bone density loss, unwanted fat loss, diabetes, and more.

The worst facet of antiretroviral therapy is the potential for drug resistance. Like an antibiotic, HIV drugs must be taken every day religiously, lest the virus become resistant to the drug. HIV is good at mutating and can survive med- ications. Drugs have the potential to make the illness worse as the virus becomes more drug-resistant. Someone who screws up multiple medications will pass the resist- ance onto the next person, making it a stronger, more lethal virus. Resistance is common, so patients usually  take at least three protease inhibitors at a time.

HIV/AIDS is usually the first illness listed for medical mar- ijuana. Over 1 million Americans are HIV positive, and 60% self-identify as medical marijuana smokers. One study has reported that patients who use cannabis therapeutically are 3.3 times more likely to adhere to their antiretroviral therapy regi- mens than non-cannabis users. This is presumably due to the nausea and negative side effects of HAART. HIV patients usually suffer from a great deal of stress living with a weak immune system. Immune function is linked to mood and this is why, I believe, medical marijuana is effective against HIV. When I started consuming high-qual- ity medical marijuana, my viral load dropped from 89,000 to 29,000. The viral load is the count of HIV copies [cells] in a blood sam- ple. My experience is not exactly medical fact, but it

isn’t any riskier than other options. Other friends have been smoking for 10 years and remain undetectable [out- standing viral load counts] An undetectable person has counts that are so low it is nearly impossible to pass it on to another person. For someone like me, it is frustrating to hear it from people that don’t  believe medical marijuana  is legit.

Besides my own experience, there is so much data to back up the legitimacy of medical marijuana’s effectiveness against HIV. The October 8, 2007, edition of Reason mag- azine featured an article where the American Academy of HIV Medicine (AAHIVM) stated: “When appropriately prescribed and monitored, marijuana/cannabis can provide immeasurable benefits for the health and well-being of our patients.” Others agree that medical marijuana’s benefits outweigh the risks: In March 1999, the Institute of Medicine stated, “The profile of cannabinoid drug effects suggests that they are promising for treating wasting syn- drome in AIDS patients. Nausea, appetite loss, pain, and


anxiety are all afflictions of wasting, and all can be miti- gated by marijuana. Although some medications are more effective than marijuana for these problems, they are not equally effective in all patients. A rapid-onset (that is, act- ing within minutes) delivery system should be developed and tested in such patients….” Any doctor in good con- science cannot advise a patient to smoke. Doctors contin- ued to say, “Smoking is not recommended. The long-term harm caused by smoking marijuana makes it a poor drug delivery system, particularly for patients with chronic ill- ness” When I asked my doctor about medical marijuana, she said “Go for it, under my supervision. Just take it any other way other than smoking.”

Recent studies conducted by Louisiana State University in June 2011 suggest THC helps prevent HIV progression in healthy HIV-positive patients. Eight lab macaques were injected with SIV Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (mon- key HIV). SIV-positive monkeys on THC lasted signifi- cantly longer than other monkeys before progressing to final stages. Professor Patricia Molino of LSU  stated, “These results indicate that chronic [THC] does not increase viral load or aggravate morbidity and may actu- ally ameliorate SIV disease progression.” She goes on to say, “We speculate that reduced levels of SIV, retention of

body mass, and attenuation of inflammation are likely mechanisms for [THC] – mediated modulation of disease progression that warrant further study.” I live in Long Beach, California. There are 39 dispensaries currently open, and several delivery bike companies sup- plying medical marijuana to AIDS patients. Long Beach is currently in the forefront of  the  California  Dispensary War. In December of 2011, a ruling was made called Pack vs. The City of Long Beach. The ruling sought to destroy  the city’s lottery-like dispensary ordinance. If they ever did succeed at shutting down the city’s dispensaries, there would be riots in the streets. There are too many HIV-pos- itive people here that have a life-and-death dependency on medical marijuana. A dispensary ban in  Long  Beach would inevitably cause a chain reaction of cities in California that have dispensaries. I and many others depend on access to medical marijuana. Some of us have no other reasonable option other than cannabis. The out- come in Long Beach has a big impact on California and consequently the rest of the nation. Defend Long Beach. The research in favor of medical marijuana and HIV is growing, even in healthy patients that have just converted. Lawmakers need to wake up and see the difference between medical marijuana and accepted HIV medicine.

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