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Clinical utility of dronabinol in the treatment of weight loss associated with HIV and AIDS

Authors Badowski M, Perez S

Received 1 December 2015

Accepted for publication 7 January 2016

Published 10 February 2016 Volume 2016:8 Pages 37—45

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/HIV.S81420

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Tao Zhang

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Professor Bassel Sawaya


Melissa E Badowski,1 Sarah E Perez2

1Department of Pharmacy Practice, Section of Infectious Diseases Pharmacotherapy, College of Pharmacy, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA; 2Infectious Diseases Clinic, Tufts Medical Center, Boston, MA, USA

Abstract: Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, weight loss has been a common complaint for patients. The use of various definitions defining HIV wasting syndrome has made it difficult to determine its actual prevalence. Despite the use of highly active antiretroviral therapy, it is estimated that the prevalence of HIV wasting syndrome is between 14% and 38%. HIV wasting syndrome may stem from conditions affecting chewing, swallowing, or gastrointestinal motility, neurologic disease affecting food intake or the perception of hunger or ability to eat, psychiatric illness, food insecurity generated from psychosocial or economic concerns, or anorexia due to medications, malabsorption, infections, or tumors. Treatment of HIV wasting syndrome may be managed with appetite stimulants (megestrol acetate or dronabinol), anabolic agents (testosterone, testosterone analogs, or recombinant human growth hormone), or, rarely, cytokine production modulators (thalidomide). The goal of this review is to provide an in-depth evaluation based on existing clinical trials on the clinical utility of dronabinol in the treatment of weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS. Although total body weight gain varies with dronabinol use (–2.0 to 3.2 kg), dronabinol is a well-tolerated option to promote appetite stimulation. Further studies are needed with standardized definitions of HIV-associated weight loss and clinical outcomes, robust sample sizes, safety and efficacy data on chronic use of dronabinol beyond 52 weeks, and associated virologic and immunologic outcomes.

Keywords: dronabinol, weight loss, HIV/AIDS, HIV wasting syndrome, cachexia

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