After two previous failed proposals, Dr. Robert Cook finally received funding for his marijuana study in August.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse granted UF Health $3.2 million to conduct a five-year study on marijuana’s health effects on people with HIV. The study is contingent on Florida Amendment 2, the legalization of medical marijuana, that took effect in January, Cook said. HIV is one of the approved conditions for medical marijuana treatment by the Florida Department of Health.

Cook said he and his research team will follow 360 existing medical and recreational marijuana users with HIV and 40 non-users with HIV over the course of five years, starting in the beginning of 2018, to observe any health benefits. The group of marijuana users is made up of individuals who already use the drug, Cook said. Cook will not provide any participants with marijuana, but rather will ask questions about their personal use and record his observations.

“People are nervous,” he said, “But my study is pretty innocent.”

Cook will also monitor the participant’s pain, which is a common side effect of HIV, he said. Based on preliminary evidence, Cook believes medical marijuana use for pain treatment lowers the use of prescription opioids, which are addictive.

“(Medical marijuana is a) safer option that might be more effective,” he said.