Florida universities start study of cannabis health effects in HIV patients
David Royse | LedeTree
Researchers at the University of Florida, the University of South Florida and Florida International University plan to track 400 HIV patients who say they use marijuana over the next five years to document its effect on their health. UF says it will likely be the largest and most comprehensive study on the health effects of cannabis in people with HIV.
The research team will track the quantity, frequency and cannabinoid content of cannabis used by participants in order to identify patterns of use most strongly associated with control of symptoms, including pain, stress and sleep problems, according to a statement by the University of Florida’s UF Health. The study will be led by UF Health’s Dr. Robert Cook, an epidemiologist who works primarily on HIV.
“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,” Cook said. “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.”
The research is funded by a $3.2 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Florida has the highest rate of new HIV infections and the third-highest number of people living with HIV infection in the U.S.
The study will only track patients in Florida. The researchers won’t provide cannabis for the patients, but will document the effects of whatever cannabis they take on their own.
In addition to asking patients what they use, the researchers will do a urine drug assessment for toxicology to determine what cannabinoids are in the patient’s system.
“Marijuana contains a range of cannabinoid components, each of which could affect HIV health outcomes positively or negatively,” said Cook, the director of UF’s Southern HIV and Alcohol Research Consortium. “These include behavioral effects, such as medication adherence and planning, and effects on the body, including chronic inflammation and viral suppression.”
The researchers will also compare outcomes in people who receive prescribed medical marijuana with those who get it outside the medical system.
“Currently, we expect that the majority of study participants will be using whatever they get on the street,” Cook said in an email. “But over time we expect more participants to obtain from medical dispensaries in which case they will know more specifically about what they are using. The drug toxicology may give us some insight into the specific products used.”
Researchers will also track use of opioids by the patients, which could lead to information about whether cannabis is able to reduce opioid use for pain management in this particular patient population.
“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,” 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.”