Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic and potentially fatal disease caused by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), that damages the body’s immunes system and thereby interferes with the body’s ability to combat infections and diseases.
HIV is usually referred to as a sexually transmitted infection but it can also be transmitted through blood, from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, and breast-feeding. Currently, no cure is available for HIV/AIDS, though medication is available to reduce the virus to such an extent that it cannot be measured and allows patients to live a close-to-normal life.1
HIV & the immune system
HIV damages the immune system by destroying certain white blood cells known as CD4 cells that help fight infections and diseases. The virus infects the CD4 cells and uses the machinery of the CD4 cells to replicate itself. New viruses then exit the host cells and infect other CD4 cells. During the infection, the CD4 cells will be destroyed which the immune system will respond by creating more CD4 cells.
However, if the immune system does not produce enough CD4 cells as the infection progresses, the virus amount will rise and the immune system will not be able to create CD4 cells fast enough to replenish its loss, leading to symptoms and eventually developing of AIDS. As the destruction of CD4 cells is a process, it may take years before HIV has weakened the body’s immune system to the point that it has developed into AIDS. However, modern medication can reduce the virus to such an extent that it prevents HIV from developing into AIDS.2
HIV and AIDS symptoms can differ which depend on the stage of infection.1
Also known as acute HIV, the infection occurs within two to four weeks after the virus has entered the body. The initial symptoms of the infection may last a few weeks with flu-like symptoms though with some symptoms being so mild that they will go unnoticed. At this first phase of the infection, the virus load in the body is rather high which leads the infection to spread more rapidly during primary infection compared to the later stage.
Clinical latent infection
Also known as chronic HIV, in phase two HIV is still present in the body and in white blood cells, however, many people may not experience any symptoms during this phase. Phase two may last for many years if not treated with antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Symptomatic HIV infection
In the third phase, you may develop mild infections, symptoms, or chronic signs of HIV, as the virus continues to multiply and destroy your immune cells. The symptoms may include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Weight loss
- Oral yeast infection (thrush)
- Shingles (herpes zoster)
Progression to AIDS
If untreated, HIV may develop into AIDS within eight to ten years. At this last phase, the body’s immune system is severely damaged to such an extent that the body is vulnerable to developing diseases including opportunistic cancer and infections that normally do not cause any illness in a healthy immune system.1
Clinical data proposes that cannabinoids may be used in the therapeutic treatment of AIDS-related symptoms. Furthermore, THC and other compounds may help reduce virus production and viral spread. Due to the nature of the disease, both oral and sublingual applications as well as inhalation may be beneficial.3
In addition, it was observed that cannabinoids may help reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune response.4
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