Cardiologist Claudia Martinez studies the impact on heart health of legal and illegal drugs on people with HIV. Her work has earned support from the National Institutes of Health's Institute on Drug Abuse.
Economic Backbone: Cardiac Care
A University of Miami cardiologist is studying how cannabis use in HIV patients affects the heart.
Miami cardiologist Claudia Martinez’s research into heart health in people with HIV is getting a $2.3-million boost thanks to a federal grant that will allow her to assess real-world risks and benefits of cannabis use in a vulnerable population.
“We know that people with HIV have a higher risk of heart disease but don't know what happens when they use cannabis, which for them is legal to use for medical reasons,” says Martinez, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “So, they are getting the cannabis for health benefits, yet we may be increasing their cardiovascular risk. We don't know.”
Given that the use of marijuana and derivatives as medicine is widespread — used legally but conditionally in most states, including Florida — it is important to assess how the benefits of cannabis in treating patients for conditions such as nausea, weight loss and anxiety stack up against the risks of heart disease. “We cannot wait for years to understand this,” she says.
To find the answer, Martinez will study HIV-positive people who use cannabis but have no signs of heart disease at the onset of the study. She will monitor them for heart risks such as inflammation and changes in heart function or heart structure, aided by MRI software that can detect such changes early. Any changes will be compared with the frequency of patients’ cannabis use and the levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) in their blood and urine.
This study builds on Martinez’s research into the impact on heart health of certain other drugs, legal and illegal, among people with HIV.
Martinez’s work in real-world research on behalf of vulnerable communities has earned her a four-year Avenir Award from the National Institutes of Health’s Institute on Drug Abuse.
Martinez will collaborate on the cannabis study with Denise Vidot, epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies, whose work focuses on biological, psychosocial and societal implications of cannabis use.