HIV/AIDS is a qualifying condition for many state MMJ programs.  Read below to find out why. 

  • Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, 84.2 million people have been infected, and approximately 40.1 million people have died of HIV.
  • 38.4 million people globally were living with HIV at the end of 2021. Around 0.7% of adults aged 15–49 years worldwide have HIV, although the epidemic’s burden continues to vary between countries and regions.
  • The WHO African Region remains most severely affected, with about one in 25 adults living with HIV and accounting for over two-thirds of the people living with HIV worldwide.

What is HIV?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) attacks the immune system’s cells, making a person more vulnerable to acquiring other illnesses and diseases. It is spread through the bodily fluids of someone with HIV, most commonly during unprotected sex or through sharing needles. If HIV is left untreated, it can lead to the development of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which is currently no cure. 

Once people contract HIV, they, unfortunately, have it for life. However, with ongoing medical care, people can control HIV. Thanks to recent breakthroughs, patients with HIV who receive HIV treatment can now live long, healthy lives and even have sexual partners. 

What is AIDS?

AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a late-stage HIV infection that occurs when the virus badly damages the body’s immune system.

Most people with HIV in the United States don’t develop AIDS because taking prescribed HIV medicine stops the disease progression.

A person has progressed from HIV to AIDS when:

  • The number of CD4 cells falls below 200 per cubic millimeter of blood.
  • They develop at least one opportunistic infection, regardless of the CD4 count.

People with AIDS typically survive around three years without treatment. Once someone has developed an opportunistic illness, life expectancy falls to one year or less without medication. Those who start HIV medicine earlier will experience more benefits which are why testing is critical.

What are the symptoms?

  • Many people experience flu-like symptoms within four weeks after the initial HIV infection. These symptoms may last for a few days up to a month.
  • It’s important to remember that other illnesses can cause similar symptoms, so they don’t necessarily mean HIV has been contracted. 
  • Some people experience no symptoms at all and will only find out through testing.
  • HIV/AIDS symptoms often include a fever, rash, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, and aching muscles.   

How is HIV transmitted?

Most people get HIV through vaginal or anal sex and sharing needles or syringes.

You can contract an HIV infection if you have unprotected anal sex with someone who has HIV.

  • Anal sex is the most common sex for getting or transmitting HIV.
  • Being the receptive partner is more dangerous than being the insertive partner.
  • The bottom’s risk is higher because the rectum lining is thin and may allow HIV to enter the body quickly.

You can obtain HIV if you have unprotected vaginal sex with someone who has HIV.

  • Vaginal sex is less harmful to getting HIV than anal sex.
  • Both partners can obtain HIV during vaginal sex.
  • HIV can enter the body during vaginal sex through the delicate linings of the vagina and cervix.
  • Vaginal fluid and blood can carry HIV and pass through the opening at the tip of the penis (urethra).

HIV can be transmitted from a mother to a baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding, but this is not common. 

  • Also called perinatal transmission or mother-to-child transmission.
  • Testing all pregnant women has substantially lowered the number of babies born with HIV.
  • If a woman takes HIV medicine as prescribed throughout pregnancy and childbirth and gives HIV medicine to her baby, the risk of transmission is extremely low. 

There is a higher risk of contracting HIV if you share needles or syringes with someone who has HIV. 

  • Used needles and syringes may contain someone else’s blood that contains HIV.
  • People who inject drugs risk getting HIV if they engage in unprotected sex.
  • Sharing needles or syringes increases your risk of getting hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections.

HIV Risk Factors

  1. The higher someone’s viral load (amount of HIV levels in the blood), the more likely that person is to transmit HIV.
  2. If you have another sexually transmitted disease (STD), you may be more likely to get or transmit HIV.
  3. When drunk or high, you’re more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors like having sex without protection.

Stages of HIV/AIDS

When people with HIV don’t receive treatment, they gradually progress through three stages. Current HIV treatment can slow or prevent the progression of the disease. Getting to Stage Three is much less common today than in the earlier years of HIV.


  • Large amount of HIV in the blood
  • Highly contagious
  • Flu-like symptoms (get tested if you think you could have HIV)


  • Asymptomatic HIV infection or clinical latency
  • HIV is active and reproduces throughout the body.
  • There may be no symptoms or illness, but HIV can be transmitted.
  • HIV treatment as prescribed may prevent ever transitioning into Stage 3 (AIDS).
  • Without HIV treatment, this stage may last many years or progress faster. At the end of the 2nd stage, the amount of HIV in the blood increases into Stage 3.


  • The most severe stage of HIV/AIDS.
  • People with AIDS may have a high viral load and easily transmit HIV.
  • People with AIDS have damaged immune systems causing them to get an increasing number of opportunistic infections or other severe illnesses.
  • Without HIV treatment, people with AIDS usually survive approximately three years.

HIV Prevention Tools 

Prevention methods include:

  • Protection during sex (condoms, talking with partners)
  • Don’t use shared injection tools for drugs (needles)
  • PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) can reduce your chance of getting HIV from sex or injection drug use. When taken as prescribed, PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV.
  • PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) means taking medicine to prevent HIV after a possible exposure. PEP should be used only in emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV.

Can medical marijuana help? 

Research suggests yes, and HIV/AIDS is included on many qualifying condition lists in various states. The Marijuana Policy Project (MMP), a 25-year-old organization responsible for passing thirteen medical cannabis laws in the last two decades, states how medical cannabis can help with HIV/AIDS symptoms. 

“Medical Marijuana is commonly used to relieve nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss sometimes caused by HIV infection or by medications used to treat HIV. Research has consistently found that these side effects are the leading reason patients interrupt or discontinue antiretroviral therapy (ART),” reports the MMP.

 AIDS and Behavior has a study that revealed results from a seven-year trial between 2005 and 2012. Over five hundred HIV-positive illicit drug users completed over 2,000 interviews, and 1/4 reported using MMJ daily to relieve symptoms. 

Last Updated: June 6, 2024

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