Marijuana linked to risky sex for Russians with HIV

BOSTON U. (US) — Marijuana use by Russians with HIV who are considered “risky drinkers” is linked to an increase in other unsafe behaviors involving drug use and sex.

Researchers say the new findings may help clinicians and public health experts detect individuals at a higher risk of transmitting HIV.

Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is the most frequently used illicit drug worldwide. Previous research has shown that in certain non-HIV infected populations, marijuana use is associated with the use of other drugs such as cocaine and heroin, as well as an increase in unprotected sex and a larger number of sexual partners.


In Russia, the HIV epidemic has been largely propelled by injection drug use (IDU), although transmission through unprotected sex is increasing. Still, not much is known about marijuana use and its impact on those behaviors in individuals already infected with HIV.

For the study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers examined data collected in St. Petersburg, Russia, in a cohort of 700 HIV-infected individuals with risky drinking practices.

Risky drinkers are men who drink more than four drinks a day or 14 drinks a week and women who consume more than three drinks a day or seven drinks a week.

In this population, the frequency of marijuana use within the previous year was determined and those who used were compared to the non-users with regard to risky drug and sex practices, including needle sharing, IDU, the number of sex partners, and frequency of condom use.

Working with colleagues from Russia,  researchers found that baseline marijuana use is relatively common, with 20 percent having used within the previous month and 46 percent within the previous year. Forty-two percent of the respondents admitted to IDU and 23 percent to sharing needles within the previous 30 days, and 27 percent reported multiple sexual partners in the previous three months.

The data also shows a significant association among individuals who report using marijuana within the previous 30 days and an increase in sharing needles and in the number of injections. In addition, while marijuana use was not associated with decreased condom use, it was associated with an increased number of sexual partners.

The study results indicate that asking HIV-infected patients about marijuana use may identify those who are at a higher risk for transmitting HIV.

“I don’t think physicians currently inquire about marijuana use among HIV-infected individuals in part because they are not sure what to do with the information,” says Jeffrey Samet, chief of general internal medicine at Boston Medical Center and the article’s corresponding author.

“Given these findings and the high prevalence of marijuana use, it is important to explore whether or not its use results in risky behavior.”

Funding for this study was provided by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Source: Boston University