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DEA’s Loosened Restrictions on MMJ Research Could Open the Door to New HIV Drugs

DEA's Loosened Restrictions on MMJ Research Could Open the Door to New HIV Drugs
Photo by Gracie Malley

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DEA’s Loosened Restrictions on MMJ Research Could Open the Door to New HIV Drugs

For decades, medical marijuana has long been an ally for HIV patients, showing efficacy for a number of HIV-related symptoms.

The Drug Enforcement Administration could have rescheduled marijuana from Schedule I on the Controlled Substances Act, but instead they announced that they’d be lifting restrictions on cannabis research. One big takeaway from the DEA’s Aug. 11 announcement was that the DEA is now allowing additional institutions to obtain a license to grow marijuana for the purpose of scientific research. The loosened restrictions could change everything for HIV patients that haven’t seen success with traditional therapy.

If medical marijuana is effective for anything, it’s HIV.

For decades, medical marijuana has long been an ally for HIV patients. Medical marijuana has shown efficacy for a number of HIV-related symptoms, most notably for the treatment of wasting syndrome, neuropathic pain, HIV/HCV co-infection, and the spread of the virus itself.

“HIV specialists have been hearing about the medical use of marijuana even longer than we’ve had effective antiretroviral therapy,” wrote Paul E. Sax, M.D. in Journal Watch. “Initially touted as an appetite stimulant for HIV-related anorexia and weight loss, and as palliative therapy to ease the pain of death and dying, it gained further use in the mid-1990s when early HIV-related combination regimens caused so much nausea.”

Now 20 solid years later, the DEA claims that we don’t have enough research to prove the efficacy of marijuana with diseases like HIV. Currently, The University of Mississippi is the sole institution with a federal license to grow marijuana for the purposes of research.

A 2014 study compared progress in male rhesus monkeys infected with Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) after taking doses of Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol. That study, and many more, indicate that marijuana could slow the progression of the HIV virus. Medical marijuana may help in a number of different ways with new Investigational New Drugs (IND’s) that could treat HIV in areas where traditional HIV medications fall short.

Peripheral Neuropathy is a nagging numbness and pain common in HIV patients. One double-blind, randomized study recently found that a THC/CBD spray was effective against neuropathic pain associated with HIV.

“These findings demonstrate that, in a meaningful proportion of otherwise treatment-resistant patients, clinically important improvements in pain, sleep quality and SGIC of the severity of their condition are obtained with THC/CBD spray. THC/CBD spray was well tolerated and no new safety concerns were identified, concluded researchers.

Medical marijuana is becoming a more viable option for patients with multiple infections as well. Early reports linked daily marijuana use with liver disease in patients co-infected with HIV and Hepatitis C. A study in 2013 cleared marijuana from being associated with fibrosis in patients co-infected with HIV and Hepatitis C (HCV). The most recent study cleared marijuana from being associated with fibrosis in women who are co-infected with HIV and chronic Hepatitis C.

“In this large cohort of HIV/HCV-coinfected women, THC was not associated with progression to significant liver fibrosis,” wrote researchers.

Furthermore, an additional study linked a lower insulin resistance with HIV/HCV patients that take medical marijuana.

Through social media, the internet has compelled the DEA to answer one simple question: How can you say marijuana lacks medical value when the U.S. Government filed for a patent for medical marijuana as far back as 1999? Patent number 6,630,507 identifies medical marijuana as effective neuroprotectant and antioxidant. Its neuroprotective abilities could benefit those with autoimmune diseases, such as HIV.

“The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia,” the patent reads.

Common antiretroviral regimens do little to address cognitive impairment associated with the progression of the virus.

There are a number of ways medical marijuana could help those with HIV and other infections. The small changes made by the DEA could open the floodgates for effective research that could go beyond the glacial pace of medical marijuana research.

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