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Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2019 Sep 23;4(3):204-213. doi: 10.1089/can.2018.0068. eCollection 2019.

Cannabis Consumption in People Living with HIV: Reasons for Use, Secondary Effects, and Opportunities for Health Education.

Author information

Chronic Viral Illness Service, Division of Infectious Diseases and Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, Canada.
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM), Montreal, Canada.
Department of Family Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Canada.
Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
Clinical Outcomes Research and Evaluation (CORE), Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, Canada.
Department of Psychiatry, McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, Canada.


Introduction: Rates of cannabis consumption range from 40% to 74% among people living with HIV (PLWH). Little is known about the reasons for cannabis use, related modes of administration, effectiveness for symptom relief, or undesirable effects in the modern antiretroviral therapy (ART) era. Our aim was to conduct an exploratory study to identify potential areas for further evaluation and intervention. Materials and Methods: From January to June 2018, health care providers at the Chronic Viral Illness Service in Montreal, Canada, asked their patients about cannabis use during routine visits. Patients reporting cannabis use were invited to complete a 20-min coordinator-administered questionnaire. Questions related to patterns of use, modes of administration, reasons for use, secondary effects, and HIV health-related factors (e.g., adherence to ART). Results: One hundred and four PLWH reporting cannabis use participated. Median age was 54 years (interquartile range [IQR] 46-59), 13% were female, and 42% were HIV-Hepatitis C co-infected. Median CD4 count was 590 cells/mm3 (IQR 390-821), 95% of participants were on ART, and 88% had suppressed viral loads. Reported cannabis use was more than once daily (32%); daily (25%); weekly (22%); monthly (17%); and rarely (twice to thrice per year; 6%). The majority of participants (97%) smoked dry plant cannabis. Other modes included vaping (12%), capsules (2%), edibles (21%), and oils (12%). Common reasons for cannabis use were for pleasure (68%) and to reduce anxiety (57%), stress (55%), and pain (57%). Many participants found cannabis "quite effective" or "extremely effective" (45%) for symptom relief. Secondary effects included feeling high (74%), increased cough (45%), paranoia (22%), palpitations (20%), and increased anxiety (21%). Over two-thirds of participants indicated that secondary effects were not bothersome at all. Most participants (68%) rarely missed doses of their ART, while 27% missed occasionally (once to twice per month). The most commonly accessed sources of information about cannabis were friends (77%) and the internet (55%). Conclusion: The most common reasons for cannabis use in our population were for pleasure, followed by reduction of stress/anxiety and symptoms associated with a medical condition. Most smoke cannabis and rate cannabis as quite effective for symptom relief. While many participants experience secondary effects, most are not bothered by these symptoms. Amid widespread changes in the regulatory landscape of recreational cannabis, health care providers should be prepared to answer questions about cannabis.


AIDS; HIV; cannabis; marijuana

[Available on 2020-09-23]

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have received free product from Tilray, Inc. for use in a clinical trial (Canadian HIV Trials Network PT028), but no financial support was received for this or other studies.

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