A significant percentage of HIV/AIDS patients use marijuana to alleviate their symptoms, and rate it as effective as prescribed or over the counter (OTC) medicines, says study.
Scientists associated with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) International HIV/AIDS Nursing Research Network have revealed that patients generally use marijuana as a symptom management approach for anxiety, depression, fatigue, diarrhoea, nausea, and peripheral neuropathy.
They made these findings while examining symptom management and quality of life experiences among those with HIV/AIDS in the US, Africa, and Puerto Rico.
The purpose of their study was to gain a fuller picture of marijuana's effectiveness and use in this population.
Along with data from a multi-country randomised control clinical trial, the researches used four different evaluation tools to survey demographics, self-care management strategies for six common symptoms experienced by those living with HIV/AIDS, quality of life instrument and reasons for non-adherence to medications.
The researchers found that the participants who used marijuana rated their anxiety significantly lower than those who did not, and that women who used marijuana had more intense nausea symptoms.
For those who use both marijuana and medications for symptom management, antidepressants were considered more effective than marijuana for anxiety and depression, but marijuana was rated more highly than anti-anxiety medications.
The participants who used marijuana were less likely to comply with their regime of anti-retroviral (ARV) medications. But those who used marijuana to target a particular symptom were actually more likely to stick closely to their ARV regimen too.
The researchers say that patterns of how marijuana use interferes with patients' adherence to medication regimens, along with other drugs, warrant further study.
According to them, data suggest that marijuana is a trigger among those susceptible to psychosis, and is also associated with the risk of suicidal thoughts. But it is not linked to an increased risk of lung cancer.
The question of the use of marijuana for symptom management when legal drugs are available remains a practice and policy issue.
"Given that marijuana may have other pleasant side effects and may be less costly than prescribed or OTC drugs, is there a reason to make it available? These are the political ramifications of our findings. Our data indicate that the use of marijuana merits further inquiry," says study leader Inge Corless.
The study has been published in the journal Clinical Nursing Research.