Q and A


Can recreational drugs affect your CD4 or viral load counts?

Can the using of illicit drugs, ie ecstasy, GHB, speed, ketamine and or ice effect your CD4 or viral loadcounts?

I am not asking as I am a user although I somehow suspect that I would not be believed anyway, I want to know as I know a person who is very close to me.

He is not slowing down on the use and his viral load is starting to climb, ie has been stable at 1000 for some 6 months and then it rose to 11000 and 4 weeks later is sitting 37000. At this stage he is not on any treatment and I do worry about him and the damage that he is doing.


Thank you for your question.

Most recreational drugs (especially among the ones you mentioned) have not been directly studied to know whether they have a significant effect on CD4 counts or viral load.

But coke and ecstasy have been found to reduce CD4 count – at least in the short-term. The long-term effects on HIV are unknown but these are all powerful drugs, and one concern is that with regular use, they have an impact on other aspects of your life – especially ‘ice’ (crystal meth).

If someone is not on treatment, viral load gradually rises and CD4 count falls. When it reaches 200, current UK guidelines recommend starting HIV treatment. The next UK guidelines will probably recommend starting treatment when CD4 is between 200 and 350 based on studies that show there are benefits to earlier treatment.

Last week US guidelines change to recommend starting treatment at a CD4 count of 350.

I hope this is helpful.


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