A new study explores the effects of cannabis on heart health in people with HIV
By Damian McNamara
Illustration by Oliver Burston
laudia Martinez, M.D., associate professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Miller School, has been awarded the prestigious Avenir Award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health. The Avenir Award, which recognizes unique approaches to medical research and aims to create new avenues of investigation, will support her research on the effects of cannabis use on cardiovascular health among people living with HIV.
The four-year, $2.3 million award supports Dr. Martinez’s Cannabis-Heart and HIV study, or CannHeart. The study is the first of its kind to consider the risks and benefits of cannabis for heart health in people with HIV.
“We know that people with HIV have a higher risk of heart disease, but don’t know what happens when they use cannabis, which for them is legal to use for medical reasons,” Dr. Martinez said. “They are getting the cannabis for health benefits, yet we may be increasing their cardiovascular risk.”
Dr. Martinez plans to learn more by studying people with HIV who smoke cannabis products regularly and have no heart disease at baseline. She will measure the amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the most potent compound in cannabis, and cannabidiol (CBD), the beneficial compound in cannabis, in blood and urine samples.
Another aim is to evaluate heart risks in the same participants, including any inflammation or changes in heart function or structure seen on an MRI. Innovative MRI software will allow detection of earlier changes to the heart that might otherwise go unnoticed. Those results will be aligned with how much cannabis each participant uses and their levels of THC and CBD.
Dr. Martinez is collaborating with co-investigator Denise Vidot, Ph.D., an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies, whose work focuses on the biological, psychosocial and societal implications of cannabis use.