New Mexico AIDS InfoNet www.aidsinfonet.org Fact Sheet Number 731
Some people with HIV get nauseated A research study found that smoking
WHAT IS MARIJUANA?
Marijuana or Cannabis sativa is an herb. when they take antiviral medications. marijuana does not increase HIV viral
It grows in many places around the world. This can make it difficult to take all load or reduce T-cell counts.
It is also called hemp, reefer, or cannabis. scheduled doses. Marijuana can help
It has had many uses in different cultures. control the nausea.
These include reducing pain and
increasing appetite. Marijuana contains It may also relieve the pain of peripheral HOW DO WE KNOW IT WORKS?
chemicals called cannabinoids. The best neuropathy (see fact sheet 555) and is Many scientific studies document
known is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. being studied for that purpose. marijuana’s ability to reduce nausea,
The marijuana “high” is mainly due to increase appetite, and decrease pressure
THC. in the eye.
Marijuana was used medically in the US HOW IS MARIJUANA USED?
until the late 1930s. Then there were Normally, dried marijuana leaves and
claims of “reefer madness.” Supposedly, flowers are smoked or baked into food. THE BOTTOM LINE
marijuana caused crime, violence, Doctors can legally prescribe Marinol®. Marijuana is an herb that is smoked or
insanity, and death. In 1970, US drug law Some people get the same effects from baked into food. It has been used for
classified marijuana as having a high Marinol as from smoked marijuana. health purposes for thousands of years. It
potential for abuse and no medical use. Others prefer to smoke marijuana. They was legal in the United States until the
can use just the amount they need 1930s. It stimulates the appetite,
Marijuana was later found to have other without bad effects from higher doses. reduces nausea and some types of pain,
health benefits. It can lower pressure and reduces pressure inside the eye.
within the eye. This helps treat glaucoma,
an eye disease which can cause US drug policy made marijuana illegal in
blindness. Marijuana also reduces WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS? 1970. However, doctors can prescribe
nausea and vomiting in patients taking Smoking marijuana can cause some of Marinol. It is a synthetic version of THC,
chemotherapy treatment for cancer. It the same health problems as smoking an active substance in marijuana. Not
reduces muscle spasms in people with tobacco, including bronchitis. However, it everyone gets the same results from
nerve problems like multiple sclerosis and has not been clearly linked to lung cancer. Marinol as from marijuana.
can help treat some types of pain. These
uses led to the development of the drug Smoked or eaten marijuana can disrupt Some people with AIDS use marijuana to
dronabinol (Marinol®), a synthetic version balance, physical coordination and visual stimulate their appetites or to avoid
of THC. perception. This can make it dangerous nausea when taking their antiviral
to drive a car or operate machinery. medications. A few states have passed
NOTE: Federal and state laws Some people feel stoned (very medical marijuana laws that permit limited
generally forbid the sale or possession disoriented or dizzy) when using use for health purposes.
of marijuana. Eight states have marijuana. This effect can be stronger
passed “medical marijuana” laws that when marijuana is eaten than when it is For more information:
permit limited use for health reasons. smoked. • Joy, Janet E, Marijuana and
However, in May 2001 the US Supreme Medicine. Institute of Medicine, 1999.
Court ruled that medical use of Some users develop a tolerance to (800) 624-6242, or online at
marijuana is illegal under federal law. marijuana. This means they need higher http://www.nap.edu.
Federal officials can take action and higher doses to get the same effect. • International Association for
against medical marijuana users or Users can also become dependent on Cannabis as Medicine,
“buyers’ clubs” even in states with marijuana. They may have mild http://www.acmed.org
medical marijuana laws. withdrawal symptoms when they stop • Marijuana Policy Project,
using it. http://www.mpp.org
• National Organization for Reform of
Marijuana Laws, http://www.norml.org
WHY DO PEOPLE WITH HIV USE
MARIJUANA? HOW DOES IT INTERACT WITH
People with HIV use marijuana to OTHER THERAPIES?
stimulate appetite and to reduce nausea. There are no known interactions between
Many people with HIV have low appetite. marijuana and medications or other
This can be due to fatigue or drug side herbs. However, very few interactions
effects. Low appetite can lead to AIDS between herbs and medications have
wasting (see fact sheet 518.) Marijuana been studied. Tell your doctor if you are
stimulates the appetite, preventing these using any herbs or supplements.
problems. Revised August 10, 2002
Partially funded by the National Library of Medicine and the New Mexico Department of Health
Fact Sheets can be downloaded from the Internet at http://www.aidsinfonet.org