OPINION | washingtonblade.com
By BRUCE MIRKEN A NEW STUDY, just
published in the journal Neurology, confirms the value of medical marijuana for
people with HIV/AIDS, proving scientifically what many of us have seen
first-hand or through the experiences of friends. This new data should rouse our
community and the organizations that represent us to action.
Feb. 23, 2007
particular study dealt with peripheral neuropathy, a painful condition caused by
damage to the nerves of the feet and other extremities caused by HIV or by some
of the medications used to treat it. It can range from mild tingling to pain so
extreme that, as writer and AIDS activist Phil Alden puts it, “It can feel like
you’re being stabbed with a knife, or like your feet and hands are on
Imagine living with pain like that every day. Imagine knowing that
the medications you must take daily to stay alive are making it worse. Imagine
that nothing your doctor can give you — not even the strongest painkillers that
leave you feeling dizzy or drugged — helps very much. That’s what Phil and
hundreds of thousands of other people with HIV have had to endure. About
one-third of people with HIV eventually get neuropathy.
— also experienced by many suffering from multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and
other ailments — is notoriously difficult to treat. Indeed, there are no
FDA-approved drugs to treat HIV neuropathy.
But in the new study,
conducted by Dr. Donald Abrams of the University of California, San Francisco,
marijuana clearly helped.
To be sure the effect they were seeing was
real, Abrams and colleagues tested the effects of marijuana against both
neuropathy and against a special type of lab-induced experimental pain. In both
cases, marijuana clearly reduced the pain for most patients. And bear in mind
that most participants were already on other medications for their pain, and
getting little enough relief that they felt the need to participate in an
PHIL, WHO WASN’T in the study but who uses
marijuana to ease his neuropathy, says simply, “Marijuana works. It doesn’t make
the pain go away completely, but it reduces it to the point where it’s
The White House reaction was as predictable as it was
dishonest. David Murray of the Office of National Drug Control Policy called
medical marijuana “a fraud and a dangerous one.” The danger, he claimed, is
because “people who smoke marijuana are subject to bacterial infections in the
In fact, marijuana’s safety in people with AIDS has already been
studied and no such problems have been found. Indeed, if such safety concerns
were real, Abrams’s study would never have been allowed in the first
The Abrams study should be the final nail in the coffin of the
U.S. government’s lies about medical marijuana, but it is far from the only
evidence. A study published in the January 2005 issue of the Journal of Acquired
Immune Deficiency Syndromes looked at individuals experiencing moderate to
severe nausea from their anti-HIV drug cocktails. Those who used marijuana were
3.3 times more likely to consistently take their medications than those not
using marijuana and it’s well established that better HIV medication adherence
means increased survival.
FOR PATIENTS BEING treated for the
hepatitis C virus (HCV), the results are even more dramatic, according to a
study published last October in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and
Hepatology. Again, marijuana helped them stay on their anti-HCV drugs, which,
like anti-HIV medicines, cause nausea and other unpleasant side effects. But
unlike HIV, successful HCV treatment can completely clear this deadly virus from
the body. In this study, the marijuana-using patients were three times more
likely to rid themselves of HCV.
There is no doubt: Medical marijuana
doesn’t just ease suffering. It literally saves lives.
We can be silent
no more. The gay community must speak up, and LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations —
some of which have taken supportive positions on medical marijuana but few of
which have done very much about it — must make this a high priority, now.
© 2007 The Washington Blade | A Window Media Publication