The cannabidiol (CBD) market is larger than ever, with products available online and in stores in the form of chewables, oils, topicals, and more. These contain purified substances from cannabis.

CBD itself is a type of cannabinoid found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Despite claims that CBD can help treat certain conditions naturally, research is ongoing into whether these products can actually help specific health concerns, including HIV symptoms.

If you’re considering CBD for treating HIV symptoms, it’s always a good idea to talk with a doctor first. Read on to learn more about the possible benefits of CBD and what current research says about its potential in HIV treatment.

CBD vs. THC

Tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC, is a compound found in cannabis that may cause you to feel “high.” However, even though CBD and THC are both cannabinoids, or components of the cannabis plant, these are technically two separate compounds.

In fact, both CBD and cannabis are derived from the cannabis plant. Cannabis itself consists of dried cannabis leaves, seeds, and stems, which may also contain THC compounds.

CBD, on the other hand, may contain trace amounts of THC if derived from hemp, but this doesn’t exceed 0.3 percent and is not enough to cause you to get high.

CBD is perhaps best known for its potential to reduce inflammation and pain while also decreasing anxiety. Such benefits could help with a variety of health conditions.

However, research backing CBD as a specific treatment for HIV symptoms is limited due to small study groups and potential research biases.

Still, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes that researchers continue to study CBD and other cannabis products for treating HIV symptoms. They hope CBD might help increase appetite and prevent unintentional weight loss in people with HIV.

Other research has investigated the possible anti-inflammatory effects of CBD in people with HIV. One 2021 review of both human and animal studies found that CBD could reduce oxidative stress and the loss of neurons.

Additionally, results from a 2019 clinical trial found that cannabis oils taken orally may help boost the immune system in people with HIV.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) remains standard in treating HIV by reducing the effect of the virus on your body, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

However, adherence to ART may be interrupted due to side effects, like nausea and appetite loss. It’s still unclear whether CBD may help ease ART-related side effects or whether it’s safe to take both at the same time.

In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first CBD-containing prescription drug called Epidiolex. This is an oral medication prescribed to help treat Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes, two rare but severe forms of epilepsy.

In 2020, the FDA also approved epidiolex for tuberous sclerosis, a rare genetic condition.

To date, the FDA has not approved any other forms of CBD.

While CBD is not FDA-approved to treat HIV symptoms, the agency has approved dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC. Keep in mind that THC and CBD are two different types of cannabinoids.

Sold under the brand names Syndros and Marinol, dronabinol is a prescription drug approved to help treat appetite loss and weight loss in HIV, as well as nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy drugs.

The FDA says CBD products cannot be legally sold as health supplements. There’s no formal dosing guidance for taking over-the-counter CBD products to treat any medical condition. Researchers have suggested that it might be best to take CBD orally to manage symptoms of HIV.

Possible side effects from CBD may include diarrhea and sleepiness. Due to a lack of research, it’s still unclear whether CBD may cause specific side effects in people living with HIV or interact with medications used to help treat HIV.

First, talk with a doctor

It’s important to talk with a doctor before taking CBD products to treat HIV symptoms or medication side effects. If they do recommend CBD, they can help recommend a safe dose based on your symptoms and other OTC or prescription medications you’re taking.

Best type of CBD product

While CBD is widely available in various forms, researchers who have studied the cannabinoid believe that oral CBD may be the safest and most effective.

CBD taken orally may help reduce inflammation and strengthen your immune response. This may also help ensure that you’re taking the desired dose.

Oral CBD may be available as oils, gummies, and drops.

Check for drug interactions

Until researchers know more about CBD’s effects on HIV symptoms, there’s currently no widely recommended dosage of these products for such purposes. We also do not yet know the full extent of CBD’s potential interactions with other drugs.

Also, while cannabis products are marketed as natural, keep in mind that cannabinoids like CBD are strong substances that may act as drugs in your body, according to the National Cancer Institute. Report any side effects to a doctor right away.

Is CBD safe to take with antiretroviral agents?

It’s unclear whether it’s safe to take these products with ART. More research is needed regarding possible interactions.

Is CBD safe to take with PrEP?

As with CBD and ART, it’s not clear whether taking CBD with preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medications is safe. Research from 2019 shows that CBD may have strong interactions with certain antidepressants, blood thinners, and more.

Is CBD FDA-approved to treat HIV symptoms?

To date, the only cannabis-related product FDA-approved for HIV symptoms is the synthetic THC product ingredient dronabinol.

However, CBD is not FDA-approved to treat HIV symptoms. If you’re interested in trying CBD, it’s important to talk with a doctor first to make sure you take the right dosage and that the product does not interact with any medications you’re taking.

While preliminary and anecdotal evidence shows that CBD may have the potential to help alleviate HIV symptoms and related treatment side effects, more research is needed to determine the exact benefits and how they compare with possible risks.

If you’re interested in trying CBD, talk with a doctor first. They can offer guidance on the correct dosage and other safety considerations so you may gain the most benefits without risking possible side effects or drug interactions.

Is CBD legal?The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3 percent THC federally legal. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3 percent THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them federally illegal but legal under some state laws. Be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.