, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 65-76
Date: 18 Feb 2006

Combined and Independent Effects of Chronic Marijuana Use and HIV on Brain Metabolites

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The effects of chronic marijuana (MJ) use on brain function remain controversial. Because MJ is often used by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) patients, the aim of this study was to evaluate whether chronic MJ use and HIV infection are associated with interactive or additive effects on brain chemistry and cognitive function. We evaluated 96 subjects (30 seronegative nondrug users, 24 MJ users, 21 HIV without MJ use, 21 HIV + MJ) using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy and a battery of neuropsychological tests. The two primarily abstinent MJ user groups showed no significant differences on calculated estimates of lifetime grams of delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol exposure, despite some differences in usage pattern. The two HIV groups also had similar HIV disease severity (CD4 cell count, plasma viral load, HIV dementia staging, Karnofsky score). On two-way analyses of covariance, HIV infection (independent of MJ) was associated with trends for reduced N-acetyl aspartate (NA) in the parietal white matter and increased choline compounds (CHO) in the basal ganglia. In contrast, MJ (independent of HIV) was associated with decreased basal ganglia NA (−5.5%, p = 0.05), CHO (−10.6%, p = 0.04), and glutamate (−9.5%, p = 0.05), with increased thalamic creatine (+6.1%, p = 0.05). HIV + MJ was associated with normalization of the reduced glutamate in frontal white matter (interaction p = 0.01). After correction for age, education, or mood differences, MJ users had no significant abnormalities on neuropsychological test performance, and HIV subjects only had slower reaction times. These findings suggest chronic MJ use may lead to decreased neuronal and glial metabolites, but may normalize the decreased glutamate in HIV patients.