HIV-positive people have long smoked marijuana or taken its synthetic counterpart Marinol (dronabinol) to maintain their appetites and keep weight on. A new study, conducted at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and reported in the August 15 issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, suggest that both drugs are equally effective for these purposes.

The study admitted 10 HIV-positive patients to the Institute, where they alternated between smoking marijuana and taking Marinol—both containing different amounts of THC, the active ingredient in both drugs—for a total of 32 days, with periods of placebo use between the periods of active drug use.

Along with their comparable increases in munchies and body weight, both drugs produced significant intoxication, except for low-dose Marinol (5 mg). Measures of cognitive ability, such as memory testing, were no better or worse on THC-administration days compared to placebo days. Sleep scores, including estimated sleep time, were significantly higher on the days of smoking pot with the highest concentraion of THC.