While medical marijuana is legal, popular and time-tested in Arkansas, there’s still lots we don’t know about it. Researchers at the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement are working on filling in the knowledge gaps with a $1.3 million grant they won to study how medical marijuana and traditional medicine can work together.
On Friday, Arkansas Center for Health Improvement President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson talked about the study on the first day of The Medical Marijuana and CBD Wellness Expo. The event runs through Saturday at the Albert Pike Masonic Temple in downtown Little Rock.
Neither an advocate nor a critic, Thompson said he approaches the topic of medical marijuana with a scientist’s eye. Laws and culture combined in the past to prevent federal funding for studies about medical marijuana. But now, with those barriers lifted, medical researchers can dig in.
“This is a new major industry, a new major contributor to therapeutics that really we know very little about,” Thompson said. Thompson said he hopes to see some standardization on dosage, therapeutic uses and other information medical providers will need to craft effective treatment plans. There’s some hard science on the effects of cannabis on anxiety, pain and some other conditions, but we need to know more about the benefits of different strains, proper dosage and whether results differ based on how the medicine is taken.
“People are asking questions, asking for advice, but we don’t necessarily have the medical underpinnings to answer them,” Thompson said.
The ACHI study won’t include any experimentation on people or lab animals. Instead, the study will compare data about medical marijuana card holders’ purchases and their interactions with the health care system. While cardholders’ names won’t be attached to the information in the study, researchers will be able to see what diagnoses, treatments and prescriptions they’ve gotten and match that to their medical marijuana purchases.
The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement touted the study as the “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. This project 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.”
Arkansas Times publisher Alan Leveritt, moderator of Friday’s discussion with Thompson, pointed out the paradox inherent in medical marijuana studies, where patients are likely to be more experienced and knowledgeable than their clinicians.
“This could be some pretty potent stuff, and yet we have people self-medicating because they know more than the doctors know in many cases,” Leveritt said.
Teresa J. Hudson, director of the Division of Health Services Research at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science and associate director of the VA Health Services Research and Development Center for Mental Healthcare and Outcomes Research, will work with Thompson as co-principal investigator on the study.