Cannabidiol (CBD) is available in a range of products, including oils, beverages, supplements, and lotions. If you or a loved one is living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), you may be curious about the potential benefits of CBD — but also wonder if it works and is safe.
If you’re curious about CBD for HIV symptoms, you’ll want to learn about its potential benefits and risks. It’s important to note that CBD is not right for everyone, and it’s not a cure for HIV. Talk to your health care provider about specific antiretroviral drugs for HIV.
CBD is a naturally occurring compound found in cannabis and hemp plants. Unlike the compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in recreational and medical cannabis, CBD doesn’t produce a “high” feeling — the intoxicating effect of cannabis use. CBD also doesn’t produce THC’s unwanted side effects, such as anxiety or paranoia.
CBD works by interacting with the endocannabinoid system in your body. Think of your endocannabinoid system as a natural control system — its job is to keep your body balanced. This cell-signaling network consists of a complex web of chemicals and receptors that work together to keep your body's functions regulated. CBD acts on these receptors to produce its effects, such as reducing inflammation or relieving nausea.
Scientists have found endocannabinoid system receptors in all tissues and organs throughout the body, including the nervous system, glands, and immune system cells. The system helps balance several important functions in your body, like pain, digestion, mood, and immune function.
In-depth research on the health benefits of CBD are limited, but following are some symptoms it may help with.
Chronic inflammation is an issue for many people living with HIV, leading to symptoms like fatigue, muscle aches, and joint pain. CBD is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and may help ease these symptoms by reducing excess inflammation in the body.
Some people who have HIV try CBD for pain. One myHIVteam member shared, “Today was a good day. Using CBD gummies helped alleviate the pain.”
Nerve pain, also known as neuropathy or neuropathic pain, is caused by nerve damage, which occurs with HIV. People living with HIV may experience symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and pins and needles. Some people with the condition have found that CBD and other cannabis products can help manage nerve pain.
CBD may also be useful for treating chronic pain, but there’s not enough evidence to say it’s effective. It’s important to ask your health care provider about CBD before using it, because treating pain with CBD should be balanced against your specific risks and needs.
One of the most common frustrations for people living with HIV is nausea. Loss of appetite, an upset stomach, and unexplained weight loss are possible side effects of some HIV treatments. Some people with HIV find CBD or medical marijuana helpful in improving appetite and reducing nausea.
A cannabinoid-based medication, dronabinol (Marinol), is a synthetic form of THC that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat appetite and weight loss associated with AIDS. (Another prescription CBD product, Epidiolex, is FDA-approved only for seizure disorders.)
No clinical trials show whether CBD helps with nausea in the same way as dronabinol. Although CBD has been studied and shown to be effective for nausea and vomiting in people with cancer, researchers can’t say with certainty that the data applies to people with HIV.
Members of myHIVteam members share how they prioritize self-care to not only manage but also thrive while living with HIV. Taking care of yourself is essential for your physical, emotional, and mental health. On myHIVteam, people share their experiences with stress, anxiety, and depression. One member described their journey: “I struggled with depression. Now I take CBD and life is so much better.”
Some evidence shows that CBD may be helpful for anxiety, but more clinical studies are needed to determine its effectiveness. If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, you should speak with your health care provider as soon as possible about proven treatment options.
CBD is a plant-derived compound, but that doesn’t mean it is without risks. Although CBD is generally considered safe and well tolerated, it can lead to several adverse effects, such as:
CBD can interact with other medications and supplements, reducing their effectiveness or increasing the risk of side effects. One MyHIVTeam member asked, “Does anyone know if CBD oil is safe with medications?”
Medications that could interact with CBD include certain HIV medications (antiretroviral treatment), antifungals, blood thinners, seizure medications, heart medications, antidepressants, and antipsychotics. Your health care provider can help you determine if CBD is safe to use with your current medications.
CBD is legal to purchase without a prescription or a doctor’s recommendation in most states. You can find CBD in many forms, including oils, capsules, gummies, lotions, and patches.
Since CBD dosing varies between products and individual needs, personalizing dosages based on symptoms and tolerance levels is essential. In general, it’s safer to “start low and go slow.” This means starting with a low dose to see if it is effective, and gradually increase it according to your results. Ask your health care provider to help you decide whether CBD products are safe for you.
It’s important that you choose a trustworthy source for your CBD. According to the FDA, a significant number of products don’t contain their labeled amounts of CBD. Additionally, poor processing and quality control practices in manufacturing can lead to the presence of hazardous substances such as toxic chemicals or excessive amounts of mercury and other harmful minerals.
To ensure your safety, buy cannabis-derived products only from legal and trustworthy sources that conduct independent lab testing for quality and safety.
Using CBD products could cause you to fail a drug test. Most drug tests look for THC (the psychoactive component of cannabis), not CBD, but some CBD products contain trace amounts of THC that can build up in your body and potentially show up on a drug test. If you might have to take a drug test, such as for employment, find out the THC content of the product you’re using.
Are you or a loved one living with HIV? Consider joining myHIVteam today. Here, more than 36,000 people come together to connect with others who understand life with HIV. You can share your story, join ongoing conversations, and find a team made up of people from around the world who will support you through your journey.
Have you tried using CBD to ease HIV symptoms? Did it help you? Share your questions or thoughts in the comments below or by posting on your Activities page.