Is Cannabis The Secret To The Cure For HIV?

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by Benjamin M. Adams

on March 30, 2016

This piece first appeared in Cannabis Now.

The current treatment for HIV, antiretrovirals (ARVs), suppress the virus, but they only go so far. HIV copies burrow into every reservoir within the body, including bone marrow. ARVs have no effect on HIV copies living inside the brain, leaving patients with HIV-associated cognitive impairment (HAND). The current cocktail includes efavirenz — a powerfully hallucinogenic drug found in HIV’s most popular pill, Atripla. Isn’t it time for a better solution?

Colorado-based company Cannabis Science recently announced its expansion into California. Cannabis Science is teaming up with IGXBio Inc. to combine agonist cannabinoids with advanced DNA immunotherapy. The partnership will focus on creating cannabinoid-based drugs that battle areas where ARVs fall short.

An HIV-infected cell. Via: AJC.

An HIV-infected cell. Via: AJC.

HIV whittles down the immune system, and ARVs slow the process dramatically, but cause a panacea of side effects including bone loss, chronic diarrhea, and the loss of cognitive function. Martin Shkreli, the personification of pharmaceutical greed, illuminated us all on the cruel and insane pricing for HIV drugs. HIV drugs sell for many hundred times more than their actual cost to produce and patients really don’t have a choice.

Cannabis Science’s drugs contain cannabinoids that battle HIV-related Kaposi sarcoma as well as drug-resistant strains of HIV. Current, normally-effective treatment is useless against drug-resistant HIV. HIV drugs work like antibiotics — if you begin and abandon treatment too early, they becomes usesless. Drug-resistance travels from person-to-person and contracting drug-resistant HIV is a pretty grim sentence. Studies have suggested that the drugs shrink and clear up skin lesions and restore cognitive function.

IGXBio developed an FDA Investigational New Drug (IND) called GenePro, the brand name for its flagship product, Δ4SHIVKU2. GenePro is a DNA-based vaccine containing pieces of both simian (ape) immunodeficiency virus (SIV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). GenePro releases proteins through electroporation, which block the replication of HIV. By adding cannabinoids to the mix, Cannabis Science believes they have the key to a breakthrough treatment for HIV.

“To further cement our foothold in the substantial pharmaceutical drug development industry, we expect our IGXBio, GenePro drug development program to be a major pharmaceutical success,” stated Dr. Allen Herman, Cannabis Science’s chief medical officer. “Program specific details are underway and we will update progress and results as they come in.”

Cannabis Science is developing at least three cannabinoid-based drugs, CS-S/BCC-1, CS-TATI-1, and CS-NEURO-1, aimed at battling HAND and other severe side effects. They believe the treatment will help breach the blood-brain barrier and allow the drugs to work inside the brain.

HIV patients desperately need a new treatment plan. Taking ARVs like efavirenz can border on unbearable. Efavirenz causes “abnormal dreaming,” but most patients say it causes full-blown hallucinations. The U.S. National Library of Medicine admits that efavirenz has LSD-like properties. “Anecdotal reports have surfaced concerning misuse of the HIV antiretroviral medication efavirenz by HIV patients and non-infected teens who crush the pills and smoke the powder for its psychoactive effects,” wrote researchers.

If pharmacists can hand out efavirenz like M&M’s to HIV patients, shouldn’t they be allowed to prescribe medical cannabis?

There is study after study indicating the vast potential that cannabis has for treating HIV. Cannabis reportedly helps with HIV-related neuropathic pain, inflammation, and the spread of the virus itself. Research programs use apes like macaques to study HIV. “Our studies have demonstrated that chronic Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) administration results in a generalized attenuation of viral load and tissue inflammation in simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV)-infected male rhesus macaques,” wrote researchers.

Even with all the growing evidence to support cannabis’ effectiveness against HIV, some states have dropped the ball. Georgia, who has some of the worst HIV rates in the nation, dropped HIV from its list of qualifying illnesses.

Since the beginning, medical cannabis has been used as a treatment for patients with HIV and we’re just beginning to discover the tip of the iceberg. Cannabinoid-based therapies could help lead the way.

Benjamin M. Adams is a contributor for Cannabis Now Magazine, MerryJane.com, Cannabusiness.com and DirectCannabisNetwork.com. His work has been seen in Culture Magazine, Treating Yourself Magazine, SKUNK Magazine, and several other cannabis-related publications. He studied art at the University of Utah and has traveled around the world from the open hash markets in Copenhagen to Jamaica. He’s focused on the efficacy of medical marijuana for HIV and other serious illnesses. Ben lives in Southern California. You can follow him on Twitter @benbot11.