Seattle Treatment Education Project
Women, Cocaine and HIV
A “BABES Perspective”
October 27, 2003
Most people know that cocaine is “not good for you,” but many do not know of the harmful effects cocaine has in a person infected with HIV. There have been a few studies completed in the past few years on the influence cocaine has on health when is used by someone with HIV. None of the news is good.
Cocaine users often eat poorly, have unprotected sex and neglect their health, so it has been difficult to tease out which bad effects are due to the cocaine itself and which ones are due to the habits that go along with regular drug use. Research in mice helps explain why cocaine use seems to make HIV disease progress faster and lead to more of the opportunistic infections that define AIDS.
A study done at the AIDS Institute of the University of California at Los Angeles suggests that cocaine has a direct effect on HIV. Special mice were infected with HIV in human cells, then injected with either cocaine or salt water. The mice injected with cocaine increased their viral load about 200 times, even though they had a smaller number of T-helper cells than the other mice. This meant that the few T-helper cells the cocaine mice had left were churning out virus at a very high rate. It is thought the cocaine influences factors that grow more virus receptors on the T-helper cells, allowing HIV to infect them more readily.
Two other studies had results that suggested cocaine and methamphetamine use worsened AIDS-related dementia and brought about conditions in the body similar to Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s Disease is a movement disorder that includes shaking hands and an inability to control walking. Another study of gay and bisexual men (Where are the woman in HIV studies?) indicated that regular cocaine use was paired with a shorter time to death than in people who did not use cocaine.
There was also a study completed that looked at the effects of cocaine on the heart. Cocaine use in HIV negative individuals will seriously injure the heart. For instance, the young actor River Phoenix died of a heart attack brought about by cocaine use. HIV also has bad effects on the heart. The results of this study indicated that the effects of cocaine and HIV together are worse than the effects of either one alone.
In summary, research indicates that cocaine use by someone with HIV can dramatically increase her viral load, injure her brain, make dementia worse, injure her heart, and bring her to AIDS and give her opportunistic infections faster than an HIV positive woman who does not use cocaine.