Nirvana’s Dr. Andrew Vanderveer on cannabis and HIV.
By Brenden Shucart
I know first-hand how helpful cannabis can be when you are HIV-positive. I had smoked pot before being diagnosed (I was in my early twenties after all), but never with any consistency or enthusiasm. I just didn’t like the high. But a friend suggested a little reefer might help with some of the side effects from the antiretroviral medication used to keep my HIV in check. Crazy dreams which kept me up at night—vivid, uncomfortable dreams—and nausea which left me feeling tired and gross. Cannabis kept me taking my antiretroviral medication which otherwise I might have given up on. The impact it had on my anxiety and depression seemed like icing in the moment, but in the long run probably helped keep me from going too far down any number of self-destructive paths.
When the The Fight asked me if I’d be interested in speaking to Dr. Andrew Vanderveer, Medical Director at the Nirvana Clinic on Sunset for their World AIDS Day issue, I leapt at the chance. Warmth and compassion spill out of the phone. His voice betrays his roots in the South and Midwest: charming, curious, and plainspoken. He sounds like a healer.
Hello Doctor Vanderveer! Why don’t we start by hearing a little bit about you?
I’m from the Midwest originally, but i grew up in North Carolina. I went to North Carolina State on a football scholarship. I studied biology, and I got to know all about sports injuries and training and things like that. Got a masters degree in neuroanatomy in Richmond Virginia, then i went to medical school at Chapel Hill.
Why did you decide to be a doctor?
It seemed like a good career move [laughs]… I always liked science, and I like to help people. Also, my dad’s a doctor, his dad is a doctor, four of my uncles. It was kind of expected.
Why got you interested in medical cannabis?
My own personal injuries and struggles with pain is what really showed me what plants could do, that they had a place in medicine.
I was really sort of raised in and studied a lot of strict, western medicine. I didn’t believe in plants until my own experiences with really bad back pain. I was taking all kinds of pills, but nothing helped until i tried cannabis.
Then, I went to residency in Greenville, and learned more about it. I saw people suffering in the hospital and not doing well with pharmaceutical medications.
I started to educate myself about cannabis, then I started to grow it. I thought “Wow, if people can grow this plant and treat some of their symptoms, or help cure their cancer, that makes a lot of sense…”
You can’t overdose from cannabis. No one has ever died from it. People have used for thousands of years.
Was all of this in North Carolina?
Yeah. I stopped after one year of residency, moved to California and got my medical license. I’ve been here for three years.
Have you been with Nirvana that whole time?
No, I started out in San Francisco and Sacramento. I’ve been I’ve been the medical director at Nirvana for two years.
What can you tell us about Nirvana’s operational philosophy?
It’s a place where patients can come and get an affordable recommendation and everyone is welcome. Whether that be a first time patient who needs an hour with the doctor, or someone who needs a renewal who has a busy schedule and needs to get in and out.
It’s a business that wants to provide a service which is affordable, reliable and legitimate; where we can educate patients. For a lot of doctors’ offices writing cannabis recommendations that hasn’t been the case.
Most of the patients I see have a primary care doctor; but either they don’t know how to provide that recommendation or they are unwilling to provide that recommendation.
It’s somewhat looked down upon. Many doctors are unwilling to recommend cannabis, due to either fear of professional scrutiny or overall lack of knowledge.
That seems strange, we’ve had legal medical cannabis in California for the better part of a decade.
Cannabis is an ancient healing plant which has been used for thousands of years to treat a number of conditions, including HIV.
The medical use of cannabis got to a start in California because doctors wanted to be able to talk to their patients about cannabis.
What are some common ailments which cannabis can be used to treat?
Menstrual cramps, anxiety, depression, insomnia, psoriasis, nausea—
Yeah, it’s really good when used topically. Cannabis can be used to treat literally hundreds of conditions.
I met one patient in Sacramento with an incredibly rare mitochondrial disease he treated with cannabis.
Do you see many patients coming in for recommendations related to HIV?
I’ve probably seen hundreds of patients [living with HIV]. The number one thing I hear from patients with an HIV diagnosis who are on antiretroviral therapy is relief from some of the side effects of their medications—nausea, anxiety & insomnia.
Sometimes people have a newer diagnosis and they are feeling bummed out, instead of going for a pharmaceutical antidepressant, cannabis can definitely help brighten the mood, and help people be a little more active—especially a sativa during the day.
Cannaboids [the active chemicals in cannabis] have anti-cancer properties. They help regulate cells and interact heavily with the immune system. There is talk they could they have a role against the actual virus.
The number one thing I hear from patients [about cannabis] with an HIV diagnosis who are on antiretroviral therapy is relief from some of the side effects of their medications—nausea, anxiety & insomnia.”
Do you have any generalized advice for individuals considering cannabis to treat any ailment?
I would start by learning about the plant—do some research. Know the source, do some experimentation; there can be wide variability in the effects. Cannabis isn’t all the same, sort of like “music isn’t just music.”
Inspect the flower, smell it, and use one that which has a smell that appeals to you or that matches with you, that matters. All the terpenes—the things that make flowers smell the way they do, like lemonene or pinine—signal to our body what the effects are going to be.
I would suggest vaporizing.
Whats the best place to self educate?
ProjectCBD.com is a good website. And I’d also recommend they check out norml.com the National Organization of Marijuana Laws. it can tell you what the laws are in their area, and other resources and people. This plant has a great way of bringing people together, form a lot of different backgrounds and different medical problems. It’s good to link up with other people and NORML is a great way to do that.
Nirvana Clinic is located at 4511 W. Sunset Blvd., in Los Angeles. Tel: 323-663-4444. Dr. Andrew Vanderveer, Medical Director at the Nirvana Clinic, can be reached via email at Doctorandyvandy@gmail.com.