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How Does Marijuana Affect HIV?

How Does Marijuana Affect HIV?

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Photo by Maurício Eugênio for Pexels

Researchers will study benefits and cognitive decline among people living with HIv.

Weill Cornell Medicine has received a substantial grant of $11.6 million from the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health to conduct a five-year study on the effects of cannabis, including marijuana and its derivatives, on the brains of individuals living with HIV.

Dr. Lishomwa Ndhlovu, the principal investigator and a professor of immunology in medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Weill Cornell Medicine, expressed the need to understand how cannabis usage interacts with the virus-induced changes in the brain. The aim of the research is to determine whether cannabis exacerbates or protects against the neurological effects of HIV.

This project is a new addition to NIDA's SCORCH program, which investigates how addictive substances may modify the impact of HIV on the brain at a cellular level. Weill Cornell Medicine is already involved in another SCORCH project, initiated in 2021, which maps the effects of chronic opioid exposure on the brain.

While advancements in treatment have turned HIV into a manageable chronic condition, it can still cause damage, particularly to the brain. Up to 50 percent of individuals living with HIV experience cognitive decline, especially in working memory and attention. Cannabis is frequently used by people with HIV, either recreationally or to alleviate symptoms related to the virus. However, its potential addictive nature poses a risk of cannabis use disorder for individuals with HIV.

On the other hand, cannabis may offer benefits for those living with HIV due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers speculate that cannabis's anti-inflammatory effect could help mitigate the chronic harmful inflammation caused by the virus, which is believed to contribute to long-term health issues and cognitive deficits.

Dr. Williams highlighted the need to understand the molecular level interactions between inflammation, cognition, and cannabis in people living with HIV. By investigating the relationship between cannabis and HIV, the researchers hope to contribute to the development of improved prevention and treatment strategies for HIV-related cognitive deficits and cannabis use disorder.

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