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Florida Launches New Study of Marijuana’s Health Effects in People With HIV

In January, Florida’s Amendment 2 took effect, granting citizens with serious illnesses, including HIV, legal access to medical marijuana. While there is some evidence that marijuana may improve HIV-related symptoms, there is still a lot experts do not know about its health effects. University of Florida researchers hope to answer some of these questions with a new study supported by a $3.2 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

[Photo: Dr. Robert Cook]

“Marijuana use is increasingly common in persons living with HIV infection. Yet, past findings regarding the health impact of marijuana use on HIV have been limited and inconclusive,” said Dr. Robert Cook, the study’s lead investigator and a professor of epidemiology and medicine in the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions and the UF College of Medicine. “The long-term goal of this research is to provide patients, clinicians and public health authorities with information to guide clinical and safety recommendations for marijuana use.”

Florida has the highest rate of new HIV infections and the third-highest number of persons living with HIV infection in the U.S., nearly half of whom are now age 50 or older.

During the five-year study, UF researchers and partners at the University of South Florida and Florida International University plan to follow 400 Floridians with HIV who report current marijuana use. It is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive study to date on the health effects of marijuana in people with HIV.

“Marijuana contains a range of cannabinoid components, each of which could affect HIV health outcomes positively or negatively,” said Dr. Cook, the director of UF’s Southern HIV and Alcohol Research Consortium, or SHARC, Center for Translational HIV Research and the current chair of the Florida Consortium for HIV/AIDS Research. “These include behavioral effects, such as medication adherence and planning, and effects on the body, including chronic inflammation and viral suppression.”

At the University of Florida, study collaborators are scientists from across UF Health with expertise in biostatistics, cognition, substance use and toxicology, including Dr. Babette Brumback, Dr. Ronald Cohen, Dr. Linda B. Cottler and Dr. Bruce Goldberger.

The research team will track the quantity, frequency and cannabinoid content of marijuana used by participants in order to identify patterns of use most strongly associated with control of patient symptoms, such as pain, stress and sleep problems.

“Many persons using marijuana for specific health indications may have identified specific strategies to use marijuana that they find to be most effective, and we can learn from their experience,” Dr. Cook said. “This information can help to inform clinical care and identify specific types and patterns of marijuana use to be studied in future randomized clinical trials.”

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