Autoimmune, Infectious


Our Biomedical Scientist

Reviewed based on

Literature Discussion & Clinical Trials

Last update

July 2020

What is Aids

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 breastfeeding. 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

Primary infection
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:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Oral yeast infection (thrush)
  • Shingles (herpes zoster)
  • Pneumonia

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

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Fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, weight loss, oral yeast infection among other symptoms that may appear harmless individually.


Clinical data suggests THC  and cannabinoid receptor CB2 may be therapeutic for Aids.


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The connection between Cannabinoids & Aids

Studies find that CBD and THC may have great therapeutic potential and may be used to help treat Aids. CBD and THC are well-known cannabinoids, however, they do not have the same psychoactive effects. THC is psychoactive while CBD does not possess psychoactive effects. According to WHO guidelines, the cannabidiol CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.

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

The literature discussion is an overview of the published results from scientific studies investigating if and how cannabinoids can be beneficial in the treatment of Aids. The overview will be updated regularly to ensure the newest and most accurate information.

THC can potentially decrease viral load and mortality
In rhesus macaques, it was found that viral load development and mortality from Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (the monkey equivalent of Human Immunodeficiency Virus) can be significantly decreased when using THC (0.32 mg/kg, twice daily, intramuscular).5

Chronic administration of THC exhibits a protective effect. This effect is at least partially due to THC’s ability to induce intestinal anti-inflammatory microRNA expression.6

It was shown that viral load was reduced, expression of pro-inflammatory MCP-1 was decreased, and mortality was also reduced via chronic treatment with THC, which showed persistent therapeutic value. .7
Several negative side effects such as loss of memory attention and motor function were caused by THC use, however, these side effects were only transient.7

Cannabioid receptor CB2 and other cannabis compounds may be relevant in treatment of aids
Trans-activating factors (Tat) are secreted by infected cells, which are consequently involved in attracting macrophages and macrophage-like cells.
It was shown that migration of macrophages can be blocked by THC in a concentration-related manner via CB2 receptors.8

Denbinobin is a non-cannabinoid compound present in Cannabis
Binding of transcription factor NFκB to DNA can be prevented by Denbinobin and as such can stand in the way of certain diseases such as AIDS and cancer.
As an example, denbinobin can be involved in suppressing HIV-1 replication and consequently preventing viral spread.

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Clinical trials are research studies that examine new treatments and evaluate their effects on human health outcomes.

Medical cannabis reduces neuropathic pain in Aids
In one randomized cross-over trial, neuropathic pain associated with AIDS was shown to be reduced when smoking medicinal cannabis.9
In a study completed by 28 participants where they were treated with both cannabis and placebo, 46% of the participants achieved at least 30% pain relief when using cannabis compared to 18% for the placebo group.

High dosage uses of cannabis showed lower viral loads
In another study among seroconverted patients, it was found that high-intensity cannabis use was connected to lower viral loads.10

Synthetic cannabinoid are involved in symptom treatment.
A 58-year-old patient was given dronabinol (a synthetic cannabinoid) in an attempt to reduce nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain secondary to intestinal dysmotility. Dronabinol was shown to help achieve almost complete remission of the patient’s symptoms. This supports that dronabinol can be used in AIDS-related anorexia and chemotherapy-associated nausea and vomiting.11

  4. Costiniuk, C., Lebouché B. (2019). Oral cannabinoids in people living with HIV on effective antiretroviral therapy: CTN PT028—study protocol for a pilot randomised trial to assess safety, tolerability and effect on immune activation
  5. Virol. Molina, P.E., Winsauer, P., Zhang, P., Walker, E., Birke, L., Amedee, A., Stouwe, C.V., Troxclair, D., McGoey, R., Varner, K., et al. (2011). cannabinoidadministration attenuates the progression of simian immunodeficiency virus. AIDS Res. Hum. Retroviruses 27, 585–592.
  6. Chandra, L.C., Kumar, V., Torben, W., Stouwe, C.V., Winsauer, P., Amedee, A., Molina, P.E., and Mohan, M. (2014). Chronic administration of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol induces intestinal anti-inflammatory microRNA expression during acute SIV infection of rhesus macaques.
  7. Winsauer, P.J., Molina, P.E., Amedee, A.M., Filipeanu, C.M., McGoey, R.R., Troxclair, D.A., Walker, E.M., Birke, L.L., Stouwe, C.V., Howard, J.M., et al. (2011). Tolerance to chronic delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9THC) in rhesus macaques infected with simian immunodeficiency virus. Exp. Clin. Psychopharmacol. 19, 154–172.
  8. Raborn, E.S., and Cabral, G.A. (2010). cannabinoidinhibition of macrophage migration to the trans-activating (Tat) protein of HIV-1 is linked to the CB(2) cannabinoid J. Pharmacol. Exp. Ther. 333, 319–327.
  9. Ellis, R.J., Toperoff, W., Vaida, F., van den Brande, G., Gonzales, J., Gouaux, B., Bentley, H., and Atkinson, J.H. (2009). Smoked medicinal cannabis for neuropathic painin HIV: a randomized, crossover clinical trial. Neuropsychopharmacol. Off. Publ. Am. Coll. Neuropsychopharmacol. 34, 672–680.
  10. Milloy, M.-J., Marshall, B., Kerr, T., Richardson, L., Hogg, R., Guillemi, S., Montaner, J.S.G., and Wood, E. (2014). High-intensity cannabis use associated with lower plasma human immunodeficiency virus-1 RNA viral load among recently infected people who use injection drugs.
  11. Drug Alcohol Rev. Taylor, G.H., and Schwaitzberg, S.D. (2015). The successful use of dronabinol for failure to thrive secondary to intestinal dysmotility. Int. J. Surg. Case Rep. 11, 121–123.





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