Reported recent marijuana use is associated with poorer mental or social quality of life and an increased likelihood of being underemployed. Publishing their findings in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, researchers conducted a cross-sectional study of 359 45- to 65-year-old people with HIV in Colorado who had been on treatment for the virus for more than six months and who had an undetectable viral load.

Ninety-three (26 percent) of the participants reported using pot recently, which is to say during the previous month. Those who reported recent pot use were diagnosed a median of 14 years prior, compared with 11 years among those not reporting recent pot use. Among recent pot users compared with non-users, the rates of smoking tobacco were a respective 48 percent and 25 percent, and the rate of those with an income less than $50,000 (about the median income in Colorado) was a respective 92 percent and 80 percent. Other demographics and health factors were similar.

After controlling the data for various factors, the researchers found that on average, those who reported recent marijuana use had a lower mental quality of life and an increased likelihood of having poor social engagement with others and were more likely to be unemployed or underemployed.

It was not clear whether the recent pot use led to lower quality of life or vice versa, whether the two variables affect each other or whether a factor that prompts marijuana use independently leads to lower quality of life. For example, people with poor social functioning may self-medicate with marijuana. Individuals may also self-medicate to treat anxiety, and anxiety itself may lead to social isolation.

There was very little apparent association between recent pot use and having various health problems or the quality of overall physical functioning. Previous studies have not found that starting to use pot affects CD4 levels or viral load; this study also found no association between pot use and these variables.

The study authors concluded that “further social isolation associated with marijuana use among persons in an already fragile social network in the context of aging with HIV could have a negative impact on successful aging among older adults with HIV infections. Interventions to recognize and improve social engagement and [quality of life] could improve the success with which an HIV-infected person ages, particularly those who use marijuana.”

To read the study abstract, click here.