The impact of marijuana use on memory in HIV-infected patients: A comprehensive review of the HIV and marijuana literatures

Linda M. Skalski, Sheri L. Towe, Kathleen J. Sikkema, Christina S. Meade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: The most robust neurocognitive effect of marijuana use is memory impairment. Memory deficits are also high among persons living with HIV/AIDS, and marijuana is the most commonly used drug in this population. Yet research examining neurocognitive outcomes resulting from co-occurring marijuana and HIV is limited. Objective: The primary objectives of this comprehensive review are to: (1) examine the literature on memory functioning in HIV-infected individuals; (2) examine the literature on memory functioning in marijuana users; (3) synthesize findings and propose a theoretical framework to guide future research. Method: PubMed was searched for English publications 2000-2013. Twenty-two studies met inclusion criteria in the HIV literature, and 23 studies in the marijuana literature. Results: Among HIV-infected individuals, memory deficits with medium to large effect sizes were observed. Marijuana users also demonstrated memory problems, but results were less consistent due to the diversity of samples. Conclusion: A compensatory hypothesis, based on the cognitive aging literature, is proposed to provide a framework to explore the interaction between marijuana and HIV. There is some evidence that individuals infected with HIV recruit additional brain regions during memory tasks to compensate for HIV-related declines in neurocognitive functioning. Marijuana is associated with disturbance in similar brain systems, and thus it is hypothesized that the added neural strain of marijuana can exhaust neural resources, resulting in pronounced memory impairment. It will be important to test this hypothesis empirically, and future research priorities are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-141
Number of pages16
JournalCurrent Drug Abuse Reviews
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (F31-DA035131 & K23-DA028660), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (T32-AI007392), and the Duke Center for AIDS Research (P30AI064518).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Bentham Science Publishers.


  • AIDS
  • Cannabis
  • Cognitive effects
  • Drug use
  • Neurocognitive
  • Neuropsychological functioning


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