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By Lanny Swerdlow, R.N.

AIDS and Access

Although I never believed the use of cannabis was detrimental to health, the idea that its use was beneficial




By Lanny Swerdlow, R.N.

AIDS and Access

Although I never believed the use of cannabis was detrimental to health, the idea that its use was beneficial for health did not enter my consciousness until 1995 when I became a caregiver for a close friend who had contracted AIDS.

A roly-poly guy, my friend had wasted away to next to nothing due to ravages of this disease. Helping to provide him with the necessities of life, I discovered that his use of cannabis restored his appetite so he would eat, keep his weight on and stay alive. Many of the medications he took had severe, debilitating side effects and the cannabis would mitigate the side effects so he would stay compliant with his medications. And in 1995, AIDS was considered a terminal disease—you got AIDS, you died—so it was very depressing as well. Cannabis helped lift his spirits so he wasn’t so damned depressed about everything.

To obtain this medicine that made him feel life was worth living, helped him stay compliant with his medications and restored his appetite so he would eat and stay alive, we had to deal with criminals to get it.

Although in countries with functioning health care systems, AIDS is no longer considered a terminal disease, it is still very debilitating with many patients experiencing nausea, peripheral neuropathy, depression and a host of other debilitating symptoms. It is not surprising then to find that almost one out of three AIDS patients utilize marijuana to help them lead a normal life.

Due to the vociferous opposition of federal law enforcement agencies, almost all AIDS organizations steer clear of marijuana fearing the loss of their federal funding. Even with the more enlightened Obama administration, which has allowed funding for needle exchange programs to reduce the spread of AIDS amongst injection drug users, most AIDS organizations do not feel safe in even discussing marijuana with their clients, let alone helping them obtain it.

I helped staff the exhibit booth sponsored by Americans for Safe Access at the 2007 United States Conference on AIDS held in Palm Springs. Patient after patient after patient thanked ASA for all the work they were doing and told us on how critical marijuana was for their health and without it, they would be “zombies”—the most common phrase used to describe their life without marijuana. Yet, due to the fear of losing funding, AIDS organizations turn their backs on the very people they are supposed to help.

This is most unfortunate as many AIDS patients find the high price of this life-affirming medication makes it impossible to obtain sufficient quantities to provide all the therapeutic relief they need. Even worse, many patients cannot afford any when the choice is between obtaining medicinal marijuana and food and housing.

Every Monday in Riverside, the Inland Empire AIDS Medical Marijuana Patient Group meets seeking to solve this vexing health problem. Sponsored by the THCF Medical Clinic, the group provides AIDS patients with information on the health benefits, methods of ingestion and means to obtain cannabis along with the knowledge needed to navigate the tortuous briar patch of laws, regulations and licensing requirements.

The major thrust of the group will be helping patients obtain medicinal marijuana. To accomplish this feat, they are turning to the medical marijuana community and the collectives that provide them with their medicine. The group is asking collectives to commit to providing regular donations of free and low-cost marijuana to be distributed to qualified AIDS patients.

All collectives that provide regular donations are awarded a Certificate of Appreciation to be proudly displayed on their premises for their members to see. If your collective is not displaying this certificate, give them a copy of this article and tell them to get with the program.

One of the first collectives to join in the effort is Riverside’s Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center. They provide cannabis for a tincture specifically developed for AIDS patients by group leader Tom Place. As more collectives join the program, the group expects to be able to supply more AIDS patients with either free or low-cost medicinal marijuana.

As an R.N., I am the group’s facilitator, and although the group is limited only to AIDS/HIV patients and their caregivers, I would like to invite collective operators and other members of the medical marijuana community who have the resources to help provide medicinal marijuana to attend one of the group meetings.

Lanny Swerdlow, R.N., is heard on Marijuana Compassion and Common Sense every Monday at 6 p.m. on Inland Empire radio station KCAA 1050 AM. He can be contacted at (760) 799-2055 or