Researchers Awarded $11.6 Million Grant to Study the Effect of Cannabis and HIV on the Brain

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Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine aim to understand the interaction between cannabis use and the virus.

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York have been awarded a five-year $11.6 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to study cannabis and its derivatives and their effects on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (1). Superficially, researchers aim to study the effect of cannabis on the brains of people living with the virus.

“We know that the virus may cause changes within the brain, but it’s not clear yet how the use of cannabis might interact with the infection,” said principal investigator Dr. Lishomwa Ndhlovu, a professor of immunology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine (1).

Leading the cannabis research are Dr. Michael Corley, an assistant professor of immunology in medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Dionna Whitney Williams, an assistant professor of molecular and comparative pathobiology at Johns Hopkins University School Medicine.


The study aims to investigate the impact of cannabis on HIV by analyzing specific brain regions, such as the hippocampus, crucial for learning and memory formation, using both human postmortem brain tissue and animal models to examine gene activity and its cellular control mechanisms (1).

“Up to half of those living with HIV may experience declines in cognitive function, particularly in working memory and attention,” stated an article from Weill Cornell Medicine on the topic (1). “Cannabis may also offer benefits for those living with HIV. It has an anti-inflammatory effect that researchers speculate could tamp down the chronic, harmful inflammation caused by the virus. Researchers think this inflammation contributes to the long-term health problems, including cognitive deficits, that people living with HIV may experience.”

The study is part of NIDA’s Single Cell Opioid Responses in the Context of HIV (SCORCH) program, which aims to study how potentially addictive substances can modify the effects of HIV on the brain at the level of individual cells (2). The researchers hope that results from this study could help with treatments for HIV-related cognitive deficits and cannabis use disorder (1).

You may also be interested in this related article from Psychedelics: New Frontiers in Alternative Medicine: A New Clinical Trial in South Africa Aims to Study the Effect of Psilocybin on HIV Positive Women with Major Depressive Disorder.


  1. Grant funds study of cannabis effects on HIV-infected brain tissue (accessed Jun 2, 2023).