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New Study Examines Arkansas Medical Marijuana Program

medical marijuana

Arkansas’ medical marijuana program is the subject of a new study examining its link to overall health outcomes.

Researchers with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement will lead the three-year study, funded by a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

ACHI president and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson says little research exists on the link between medical cannabis and health outcomes.

“We don’t know whether we’re going to have findings that medical marijuana helps, for example, lowering individuals that have pain, their opioid prescription rate, or whether medical marijuana may have unintended effects of having new mental health conditions emerge,” Thompson said.

Thompson says the study will examine the type of cannabis products patients are consuming, as well as doctors’ office visits, emergency room outcomes and motor vehicle accident records.

The study will use six data sources, including the Arkansas Healthcare Transparency Initiative’s Arkansas All-Payer Claims Database. Thompson says Arkansas’ unique transparency laws makes this one of the first studies of its kind in the U.S.

“I think there will be a lot of eyes on this study both within the state and across the nation. There’s really been no study that, from a population perspective, has looked at the effect of a policy like making medical marijuana available as a new therapeutic,” Thompson said. “If we find that it has very positive effects, then there may be policy changes that bring it more integrated into the traditional providers of care.”

Arkansas’ medical marijuana program was first approved by voters in 2016. Currently about 80,000 patients are enrolled in the program to help treat conditions like chronic pain, cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.
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