The drug cocktail required to keep patients with HIV/AIDS relatively healthy can leave many feeling like “the cure is worse than the disease,” with common side effects including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, headaches, insomnia, and nerve pain. On August 1, Illinois became the twentieth state to allow patients to be prescribed the drug many have found to be their magic bullet: cannabis.
Though there are other medications that can be prescribed to help alleviate adverse reactions, they can have side effects of their own, are often less effective, and may only deal with one of a number of issues. The United States federal government remains resistant to admitting that cannabis has any medicinal value, which has limited research for decades, but the few clinical trials done in addition to observational studies have consistently shown promise. Anecdotal reports have also come in regarding people using marijuana to treat their HIV/AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, autism, insomnia, nerve pain, and more, with results that are sometimes nothing short of amazing.
Advocates point out that legalization not only prevents patients from having to acquire the drug illegally, but reduces stigma and increases safety; without access to safe, legal cannabis, the quality of life of patients in need may be drastically reduced. Those whose issues stem from drug side effects are sometimes driven to be inconsistent with or even stop treatment altogether. In the case of HIV/AIDS patients, this can be dangerous to more than just the individual; those with high retroviral counts, as in those not undergoing treatment, also have higher chances of transmitting the virus to others.
Because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, making the state laws technically unconstitutional (federal law always trumps state law if there is a contradiction), even people with legal prescriptions can be fired from their jobs if a drug test turns up positive.
Many health organizations, LGBT-related and not, have been pushing for expanded cannabis legalization for years; according to the Marijuana Policy Project, the American Academy of Family Physicians said in 1995, “Based on much evidence, from patients and doctors alike, on the superior effectiveness and safety of whole cannabis (marijuana) compared to other medicines for many patients—suffering from the nausea associated with chemotherapy, the wasting syndrome of AIDS, and the symptoms of other illnesses… we hereby petition the Executive Branch and the Congress to facilitate and expedite the research necessary to determine whether this substance should be licensed for medical use by seriously ill persons.”