On World AIDS Day, we examine the science behind taking medical cannabis to help manage some of the symptoms.
Wednesday 1 December marks World AIDS Day, dedicated to raising awareness of HIV/ AIDS and also mourning those who passed away.
The UN AIDS estimates that 37.7 million people globally were living with HIV in 2020. They also estimate that since the start of the epidemic, 36.3 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses.
What is HIV?
The first cases of HIV/AIDS were recorded in the late 70s and early 80s. As the first cases began to originate in the gay community, the disease was originally referred to as ‘GRIDS’ which stood for Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Disease.
Human Immunodeficiency Disease (HIV) is a virus that affects the immune system. It damages and weakens the cells making it easy for opportunistic diseases or infections to get in. The body is unable to defend itself. HIV is found in the semen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood and breast milk of those with the virus. It can be passed from person to person but AIDS cannot. Most people with HIV, thanks to advances in science may go on to develop AIDS but live with the disease for longer periods of time.
How do HIV and AIDS differ?
Acquired Immunodeficiency Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the name given to a collective group of opportunistic illnesses that occur after the immune system has been damaged by HIV.
The most common ways to transfer HIV is through unprotected anal or vaginal sex or sharing unclean needles. The NHS estimate that 80 per cent of those who contract HIV will experience a flu-like illness for one to two weeks after infection. The most common symptoms are sore throat, raised temperature, rashes, tiredness, joint pain or swollen glands.
Could Medical Cannabis help with HIV symptoms?
HIV and Appetite loss
One of the first reasons why patients began to turn to medical cannabis in the 80s to help with symptoms was to counteract AIDS wasting syndrome and associated pain.
The lack of appetite means patients may seldom feel hungry enough to eat or feel well enough to prepare a meal. Cannabis helped patients experiencing this to regain their appetite. It is estimated that the prevalence of wasting syndrome can be between 14 and 38 per cent.
In the late 80s, doctors started to prescribe Marinol which contains synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol.
Peripheral neuropathy, or nerve pain, happens when some of the nerves get damaged. It can cause stabbing pains, burning, or tingling sensations in the hands and feet. HIV and antiretroviral medications may trigger the pain. HIV When the immune system is weakened this makes it easier to get other infections that can cause peripheral neuropathy.
Marinol was often prescribed for neuropathic pain as well as appetite stimulation. Cannabis was thought to help with some of the nerve pain caused by early AIDS medication such as AZT. Neuropathic pain, which is where the exterior sheath covering nerve cells is stripped away exposing nerve endings resulting in chronic pain.
A review from 2018 suggested that medical cannabis may be a tolerable and effective neuropathic agent. The researchers analysed over 16 different studies with 1750 participants.
The authors wrote: “The evidence appears to support the safety and efficacy of short-term, low-dose cannabis vaporization and oral mucosal delivery for the treatment of neuropathic pain. The results suggest medical cannabis may be as tolerable and effective as current neuropathic agents; however, more studies are needed to determine the long-term effects of medical cannabis use.”
THC may help with improving the quality of sleep experienced by HIV+ patients. One of the symptoms of HIV can be night sweats which make it difficult to stay asleep or cause poor quality rest. This results in increased fatigue which can leave a patient feeling more run down and stressed as a result.
Night sweats occur when the body is attempting to fight a disease such as HIV. This often accompanies joint pain, unexplained weight loss, fever and chills.
A study suggested that consuming cannabis with higher THC levels can reduce the amount of REM sleep patients experience. This means a deeper, more restful sleep which can lead to better, restorative rest.
Leaning into terpenes can also help. Some terpenes are thought to be really helpful for better sleep including Linalool which is found in lavender, geraniums and jasmine.
Better cognitive function
A study from New York in the journal, AIDS Care, reported that HIV+ patients who consumed cannabis showed the same or greater cognitive performance than non-users.
Researchers took 138 HIV+ patients of which 47 had a history of cannabis use while 91 did not. Those with a history of cannabis use were found to have ‘better processing speed, visual learning, memory and dominant hand motor ability.’
Reduced neuroinflammation due to HIV
A study from San Diego examined if daily cannabis use might reduce central nervous system inflammation in a cohort of patients with and without HIV.
The researchers noted that those who consumed cannabis had lower levels of chronic inflammation compared to those who did not. Furthermore, the users’ results were similar to the HIV subjects with no history of cannabis use.
This may make it useful for preventing or delaying the development of HIV Associated Dementia which is where the virus spreads to the brain. It can cause memory loss, difficulty thinking, concentrating and speaking clearly. It is a progressive disease that sadly gets worse with time.
It may also help with HIV Associated Neurocognitive Disorder which is often found in the later stages of the disease. It causes progressive loss of memory, behaviour and motor function problems.
Different forms of dementia and some cognitive issues are thought to be caused by inflammation. It has been linked to a number of different conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease, depression and anxiety. Although more research is needed to understand how cannabinoids interact with our endocannabinoid system and the receptors in our bodies, a study from 2016 shows THC may be neuroprotective.
Authors wrote: “Cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol stimulate the removal of intraneuronal Aβ, block the inflammatory response, and are protective.”
As with any long term health condition, there can often be a lot of anxiety and depression around diagnosis.
Some cannabinoids such as THC and CBD are thought to potentially help with anxiety. It may induce feelings of calm, improve relaxation and also help with better quality sleep.
There is some debate over the balance of THC and CBD when it comes to anxiety. Some believe that lower doses of THC while higher CBD hybrids may help reduce the risk of worsening symptoms. Alternatively, some patients choose to balance their own ratios depending on their particular symptoms on the day by combining CBD and THC in different ways.
HIV and T-cell count
When HIV enters genetic information into our T cells, it makes copies of itself causing the helper T cells to die. This disrupts our immune response allowing opportunistic infections to get in without detection or fight.
CD4 are referred to as ‘helper cells’ that help the body to recognise pathogens with a protein called CD4. However, CD8 T cells are referred to as ‘killer cells’
Killer T cells seek out pathogens and help to destroy them preventing infection. If T Cells fall below a certain number, a person may go on to receive an AIDS diagnosis. Certain medications, such as chemotherapy, can affect a T cell amount so it is important to note if a new prescription may be safe to take or not with HIV.
One study from 2008 offered a longitudinal analysis of both HIV+ and HIV- men who reported that their cannabis did not have an impact on the CD4 and CD8 T cell counts.
How to get a medical cannabis prescription for HIV/AIDS
This requires self-referring or asking your GP to refer you to a clinic in the UK for assessment. The clinics will not be able to diagnose HIV or AIDS but will be able to discuss the options with you.
Medical cannabis is usually assumed to be the last option if prescription medication has not worked to control the symptoms. After an initial assessment, your doctor at the clinic can discuss if cannabis is the best possible option, what you can expect to experience and how the costs work.
A prescription may be offered in a number of different formulas such as oils, flowers or topicals.
What is the best way to take medical cannabis for HIV/AIDS?
There is no right or wrong way to take medical cannabis or CBD for HIV/AIDS. The best way is to talk to your doctor about what will suit your current condition and lifestyle. If a patient is experiencing problems with a sore throat which is common with the flu symptoms or fungal infection such as oral thrush, then swallowing edibles may be difficult. Alternatively, vaping may aggravate lung pain.
Edibles or vaping may be a better option if the taste of oils creates a problem. Keeping a journal of your medical cannabis intake can be helpful when it comes time to have your first follow up appointment or in assessing how a particular product is working for you.
How CBG has been a game changer for my ADHD
Stephan shares how CBG has helped him manage his symptoms of ADHD
Stephan Ryan shares how he has found cannabis, particularly CBG, helpful in managing symptoms of ADHD.
The number of people being diagnosed with ADHD has risen during the last two years of the pandemic, with three-quarters of newly diagnosed adults saying that the fallout from lockdown had encouraged them to seek an evaluation. Some of the reasons for this were listed as working from home, where there were more external factors for distraction, as well as the rise in ADHD-related social media channels.
Stephen Ryan, who is originally from Germany but now lives in Ireland, said: “Last year during Covid, I had a period where I was completely unable to focus. My partner at the time suggested I may have ADHD, and the symptoms completely fit, a lot of my behaviour started to make sense.
“I start a lot of projects that I never finish and go down a million rabbit holes. Work can present barriers that feel so insurmountable that I can’t focus or I can’t work on it for days before getting in trouble for not having done the work.”
Some of the other symptoms Stephen noticed were restless leg syndrome, which is associated with the dopamine deficit experienced by those with ADHD and periods of hyper focus. But as the pandemic progressed, he noticed that he was finding it increasingly difficult to focus.
Stephen has seen his GP and is now waiting on an official diagnosis of ADHD from a specialist. Covid has meant a long delays to services which has left a lot of patients in Ireland going private. Unfortunately, this can mean several hundred Euros to see a doctor before paying for any potential prescription.
Stephen has been told to expect at least three to six months waiting time or around €700 for an assessment. The cost of private diagnosis and prescriptions can be hugely daunting for patients.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition. It can affect people’s behaviour in that they can seem restless, they may have trouble concentrating and seem impulsive. While a lot of people are diagnosed at a young age, increasing numbers of adults are being diagnosed with the disorder.
ADHD can often be missed in childhood, especially for women, which has led to a rise in adult diagnosis. It can also present differently which makes it even more difficult to diagnose.
ADHD is often divided into three different types:
Inattentive: An individual may struggle to organise or complete tasks, pay attention to details, follow instructions or conversations. It also causes a person to be easily distracted or to forget parts of their daily routine.
Hyperactive: A person with hyperactivity may fidget or move or talk a lot. They can struggle with sitting still for a long period of time due to feeling restless. They also struggle with impulsivity and may interrupt frequently, speak at inappropriate times or fail to wait for their turn. They may be more accident-prone.
Combination: They present symptoms of both hyperactivity and inattentiveness.
ADHD and CBG
Stephen began consuming cannabis before he realised it may help his ADHD symptoms. While he saw some success with THC or CBD, he believes that cannabigerol (CBG) was more helpful for him.
CBG is another cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant alongside THC and CBD. It is sometimes referred to as ‘the mother of all cannabinoids’ because it is the precursor to CBD and other cannabinoids.
There is very little CBG in plants, often as low as one per cent, making it more expensive than CBD products, as CBD is much more available. CBG tends to be made from younger plants, which contain a higher percentage. THC and CBD both begin life as CBGA before maturing.
It is thought to work the same as CBD in that it interacts with our endocannabinoid system via receptors that are found all over the body. In particular, it may bind to the CB1 receptors in our nervous system or CB2 receptors in our immune system. In recent studies, CBG has been shown to have the potential for preventing Covid-19 infections from entering the body and shows promise as an ingredient for skincare aimed at helping dry skin conditions.
There are no direct studies on CBG for ADHD, although there are some which focus on CBD and CBN.
“I was emotionally drained and completely without energy, cannabis helped me to get the rest I needed,” Stephen said.
“I found a store that sold CBD so I tried that before trying THC but it wasn’t beneficial for me. I didn’t feel an effect until I started using CBG.”
He continued: “It was an instant change in the way my body and mind reacted to the cannabis. I started to mix CBD in there too. I no longer felt exhausted or tired, instead I found I was motivated, always excited and got lots of work done.”
Stephen began to join Irish cannabis activism, which is calling for reform to the medical cannabis access programme (MCAP) and for the legalisation of recreational use.
Currently, ADHD is not a condition which can be legally prescribed for under the MCAP programme. While in Northern Ireland and the UK, this is not the case and patients can apply for a prescription, Southern Irish patients who live in these regions, cannot take their prescription into Ireland without risking arrest or seizure at customs.
This situation has resulted in a lot of Irish patients emigrating to countries such as the UK or Spain.
The MCAP was introduced in 2019, but can only be accessed for three conditions: cancer nausea, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
CBG and stress
Unfortunately, during the first lockdown, Stephen experienced a break-up with his partner who he lived with at the time.
“It was incredibly stressful but for the first time with the cannabis and CBG, I was able to get some self-reflection during this chaotic time of my life. CBG has been an absolute game-changer for me. I felt this incredible motivation, positivity and creativity,” he said.
“One thing I noticed with my cannabis use before I knew about my ADHD , is that after a tolerance break, it had an amazing ability to put me in the zone.”
Stephen is conscious of the cannabinoids that he uses and how they make him feel, preferring to use a CBD flower, after finding that THC and CBD did not suit him. He is open to the idea of a prescription for medical cannabis but feels that it may be a while before ADHD is recognised by the MCAP.
“I would be happy to go on the system if it was available for me, I would be proud to have a prescription because it is a medicine and this is the first step of not being criminalised for it,” he said.
Stephen hopes that general awareness of ADHD Ireland will improve to help those who may need more support, especially in schools. He would also like to see less of a gap between the recreational and medicinal communities.
“I would love to see more awareness,” he said.
“When I was in school, the classes were too big for teachers to pay any attention to individual students, so there wasn’t much understanding of it.”
Stephen added: “Cannabis is medicine. The term recreational has been mixed up in that sense, as it means to recreate yourself mentally, physically and spiritually, but it’s become a negative storyline. People are getting the health benefits by consuming it. We need to change the narrative around this, that’s why we are becoming activists.”
How this US brand is helping veterans access free CBD
“U.S. military veterans are some of the most selfless individuals so we thought the project would be a perfect fit.”
US vaping supply brand, CCELL, has partnered with the Veteran’s Walk and Talk project to provide free access to CBD.
CCELL will be partnering with the Veterans Walk and Talk (VWAT) to gift its members with limited edition CBD vapes that highlight their military service.
Veterans Walk and Talk is a community project based in the US, offering support, psychedelic therapy and cannabis.
It was founded in 2016 by Colin Wells, who served in the US Army, as a way for veterans in Southern California, Sacramento and Oklahoma, to take control of their health journey.
The project now holds regular community outreach events that provide veterans with a one-on-one psychedelic or cannabis walk and talk therapy or group hikes. They also hold trail and beach clean-ups where the community come together to give back to nature along with book clubs and comedy nights.
To mark the firm’s fifth anniversary, the CCELL team decided to join forces with VWAT.
Speaking with Cannabis Health, Joe Strain, vice president of CCELL said: “VWAT started with veterans in mind. Founder Colin Wells, who served in the US Army and experienced withdrawal traumas, began posting on social media to see if anybody wanted to join him on his hikes as a means to relieve stress.
“On these hikes, he’d provide free cannabis, education and a safe space for people to talk. These hikes inspired him to start VWAT as a way to give back to his community, with the main goal of reducing the suicide epidemic among veterans. Now, VWAT has 12 chapters across the country, all carrying the same mission.”
Joe added: “US military veterans are some of the most selfless individuals, so we thought they would be a perfect fit. We heard about what VWAT is doing for veterans and decided to support the organisation on its mission to help improve the lives and health of veterans by providing them with CBD vaporisers. The alignment was undeniable, and we’re honoured to be a part of helping them further their mission.”
Mental health and veterans
Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be common among veterans. The symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating causing flashbacks, nightmares or physical effects such as nausea or pain.
A study from 2017 highlighted the difference in PTSD between veterans and civilians. In the study of 5,826 veterans, researchers recorded a rate of 13 per cent with PTSD. This is almost double the seven per cent of the US population with a PTSD diagnosis.
Studies show CBD may help PTSD by interacting with the endocannabinoid receptors in the body.
Joe explained: “It’s known that many veterans deal with PTSD after they have served. Studies have shown that CBD can be effective in reducing PTSD symptoms. This can potentially afford members the opportunity to manage their symptoms without excessive pharmaceutical drugs, which often cause side effects.”
He added: “CCELL has produced limited edition CBD vapes which will signify that the users of the vapes are members of Veteran’s Walk and Talk. Not only is this great for the members, but it is also significant for this non-profit organisation as it helps to spread awareness about the great work that VWAT does and will help encourage more people in need to join.”
Can CBD help with feelings of sadness on blue Monday?
Blue Monday may or may not be a real thing, but feelings of sadness, anxiety and stress are.
The third Monday in January is often referred to as ‘blue Monday.’ But what is it and could taking CBD help with feelings of depression, stress or anxiety?
What is blue Monday?
Blue Monday is thought to be the most depressing day of the year.
It was created after psychologist Cliff Arnall was asked to create a formula for the holiday blues. It falls on the third Monday of January each year. While there is a lot of debate as to whether it is real or not, depression and anxiety can be difficult to cope with.
January can be a really hard time of year for those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It may be due to the increase in cold weather, post-holiday sadness and credit card statements.
Real or not, it can be an opportunity to start talking about how depression or anxiety affect us all.
Could CBD help to lift our mood during this difficult month?
CBD for depression
Symptoms of depression can include a persistent low mood, unhappiness, low self-esteem or feeling tearful. It can cause a loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, withdrawal, tiredness or sleep issues. In severe forms, it may also cause suicidal thoughts.
CBD may have a positive interaction with the hormone, serotonin in our brains. Serotonin is involved with different functions in our bodies but it can impact a person’s happiness or emotional well-being. Low serotonin levels are associated with depression.
A study examined how CBD could make a difference to people who struggle with seasonal depression. Participants in the study were given 400mg of CBD or a placebo. Researchers reported those given the CBD reported less anxiety than those on the placebo.
CBD for anxiety
Anxiety is a reaction to stress creating an apprehensive feeling about what may happen. Some people struggle with strong feelings of anxiety every day. These feelings of anxiety can be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) or social anxiety disorder.
A study on CBD and sleep quality also found it may reduce anxiety. It involved 72 participants with 47 experiencing anxiety and 25 with poor quality sleep. Each participant was given a daily dose of 25mg of CBD then asked to report how they felt afterwards. The researchers recorded that 79.2 per cent recorded reduced anxiety and 66.7 per cent said their sleep had improved after the first month.
CBD for stress
Our bodies naturally produce a hormone called cortisol which is responsible for our feelings of stress. When we encounter fear or a stressful situation, our brain signals our nerve and hormone systems. Adrenaline and cortisol rush into our body causing a spike in blood pressure and heart rate.
Cortisol increases the glucose in the bloodstream and increases the availability of substances that can repair tissue. It controls mood, motivation and fear.
In one study, male participants with Parkinson’s disease were given CBD then asked to undergo a simulated public speaking test. Researchers reported that an oral dose of 300 mg of CBD given 90 minutes before the test reduce the participant’s anxiety and stress.
The best way to take CBD
There is no right or wrong way to take CBD if you are feeling blue.
The most common ways to take CBD are oils or tinctures, edibles or vaping. Each person may have an individual preference for one method over another. Oils or tinctures can be great if you need a quick, easy way to take a dose but vaping helps the CBD to reach the system faster. This could be a great choice if you are struggling with panic attacks and need a faster dose.
Edibles are a discreet way to take CBD and they also taste nicer than some oils. The best way to decide what is right for you is to try different methods until you find the one you prefer.
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