Federal Grant Approved to Study Medical Marijuana Impact in Arkansas

A federal study will be looking at the impact medical cannabis has had on the people of Arkansas and what still needs to be improved.

A federal grant will help fund a study on the medical cannabis program in Arkansas. 

Thanks to $1.3 million courtesy of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, researchers affiliated with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Arkansas Center for Health Improvement will conduct what is being described as “a first-of-its-kind population health analysis of the medical marijuana program, combining eligible consumers’ cannabis purchase information with insurance claims records and other data sources to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the effects of cannabis on consumers’ medical care.”

The study, titled “Population-Based Analyses of Healthcare Utilization and Outcomes in Users of Medical Marijuana,” will “also examine the impact of COVID-19 on the Arkansas medical marijuana program, including changes in cardholder requests, product purchases, healthcare utilization and adverse events,” according to a press release from the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, which is “a nonpartisan, independent health policy center that serves as a catalyst for improving the health of all Arkansans through evidence-based research, public issue advocacy and collaborative program development.”

“This is an exciting and unique opportunity for not only our state, but also the country, to investigate the effectiveness of cannabis for therapeutic use,” said Dr. Joe Thompson, co-principal investigator on this study, and the president and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement. “While researchers have gathered scientific evidence on the use of cannabis for the alleviation of symptoms such as pain and anxiety, there is little evidence on how the amount, strain, potency and method of use affect a person’s health experience.”

Additionally, the study will also “incorporate six Arkansas-based data sources, including the Arkansas Healthcare Transparency Initiative’s Arkansas All-Payer Claims Database (APCD), Arkansas Department of Health medical marijuana patient registry data, medical marijuana dispensary purchase data, vital records, emergency department records and Arkansas State Police motor vehicle crash data,” with all the data being “de-identified with linkages utilizing the unique capabilities of the Transparency Initiative.”

The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement said that by “examining data for Arkansans who have qualified for medicinal use, this research will help inform the potential role of cannabis in medical therapy.”

Voters in Arkansas approved a ballot measure legalizing medical cannabis in 2016. The state’s first dispensaries opened in 2019.

In December, state officials reported that patients in Arkansas had purchased $200.7 million and 30,648 pounds of medical marijuana.

That milestone represented a massive spike since April of last year, when the state reported $63 million and 10,050 pounds worth of medical cannabis sales, in the program’s first 11 months of existence. A month before that, the program passed the $50 million mark.

Arkansas is now one of nearly 40 states to have legalized medical cannabis as a treatment. According to the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, as of this month, there are “more than 79,000 active Arkansas medical marijuana ID card holders who have one or more of the 18 approved medical conditions.” 

The state also boasts a little more than 30 licensed dispensaries and a total of five cultivators. 

According to the state’s Department of Health, patients with the following qualifying conditions are eligible for a medical cannabis prescription: cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus/ acquired immune deficiency syndrome, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Tourette’s syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe arthritis, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s disease, cachexia or wasting syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, intractable pain or pain that has not responded to ordinary medications, treatment or surgical measures for more than six months, severe nausea, seizures including without limitation those characteristic of epilepsy, severe and persistent muscle spasms including without limitation those characteristic of multiple sclerosis.

Any other medical condition or its treatment approved by the Department of Health is also eligible.

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