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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Florida Finds Marijuana Use May Not Affect Viral Load Suppression in People with HIV

A new University of Florida study suggests that marijuana use may not have an adverse effect on viral load suppression in persons living with HIV. The findings appear in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

Okafor, Chukwuemeka

[Photo: Dr. Chukwuemeka Okafor]

“Marijuana use is common among people with HIV as some individuals report that marijuana relieves a wide range of symptoms, including chronic pain, nausea and loss of appetite,” said lead author Dr. Chukwuemeka Okafor, a recent graduate of the doctoral program in epidemiology at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the College of Medicine, and a member of the Southern HIV and Alcohol Research Consortium, or SHARC. “Several reports have found associations between psychoactive drug use and HIV-related clinical outcomes, but few have reported on the effects of marijuana use on viral suppression.”

The question of marijuana’s effects on the health of people with HIV is particularly relevant in Florida, which has the third highest number of persons living with HIV and the highest number of newly diagnosed HIV infections in the United States, said Dr. Okafor, whose work was supported by an F31 training award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

In November, Florida voters will consider a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana.

“If passed, it is possible that Florida residents with HIV may have increased access to marijuana, yet any association between marijuana use and viral suppression among those receiving medical care has not been thoroughly described,” Dr. Okafor said.

For the UF study, researchers evaluated interview and medical record data from the Florida Medical Monitoring Project, a population-based sample of persons living with HIV in Florida who are in medical care. The researchers analyzed data collected from five annual cross-sections of data collection cycles (2009-2013). Of 1,902 participants with HIV receiving antiretroviral therapy, 20 percent reported marijuana use, with 7 percent saying they used marijuana on a daily basis. The researchers found no statistically significant association between marijuana use and viral suppression.

“These results suggest that in this sample of persons living with HIV in medical care, marijuana use, including daily use, may not have a measurable adverse effect on viral load suppression,” Dr. Okafor said.

Future research should include larger studies using longitudinal designs and more precise measures of the marijuana used by participants, including the cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol content, Dr. Okafor said.