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Blair Leonard Leonard
Bill Merryweather
Aileen Lim Lim
Edward Mills


HIV, complementary medicine, herb-drug interactions



To determine how HIV+ individuals access safety and knowledge of drug interactions related to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).


We conducted two separate focus group sessions with HIV+ users of complementary therapies. A total of 8 men participated at an urban health centre. Focus group sessions were audio taped and transcribed verbatim. Analysis was conducted independently and in duplicate, using thematic analysis.


All focus group participants described their use of CAM as very important for their health maintenance, giving them a feeling of empowerment in their health care. Potential side effects and safety issues were indicated as major concerns for treatment decisions, but the participant’s knowledge of safety issues involved in CAM care for HIV+ patients was limited. The sources used by the participants to gather information regarding safety and interactions with medications were varied but included: their CAM providers, their physicians, books, resources from AIDS Service Organizations, the internet and health food stores. Participants acknowledged that appraising the quality of such information is difficult.


The participants in this study had a strong trust in CAM and used a wide variety of sources to gather information on CAM safety, though their knowledge base was poor.  As the use of CAM grows, further research on how to disseminate reliable information on safety and efficacy to this potentially vulnerable population is required.

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