Researchers at the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences have been awarded a $1.3 million research grant through the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institute of Health, to study medical marijuana utilization in Arkansas.
ACHI 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.
The study, titled “Population-Based Analyses of Healthcare Utilization and Outcomes in Users of Medical Marijuana,” will be 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. 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.
“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 ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson, co-principal investigator on this study. “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.”
Teresa J. Hudson, PhD, Pharm D — director of the Division of Health Services Research at UAMS and associate director of the VA Health Services Research and Development Center for Mental Healthcare and Outcomes Research — will also serve as co-principal investigator on the project.
This study will 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. All data will be de-identified with linkages utilizing the unique capabilities of the Transparency Initiative.
“The APCD is a dynamic tool that promotes transparency in healthcare data, and by combining these datasets, our state can assess specific health outcomes, including inpatient and outpatient care visits, emergency visits, opioid usage and new health diagnosis,” said Arkansas Insurance Commissioner Alan McClain. The Arkansas Insurance Department oversees the Arkansas Healthcare Transparency Initiative, which includes the APCD.
State policies surrounding medicinal and recreational use of cannabis are changing rapidly in the United States. Arkansas is one of 36 states with some form of legalized marijuana, with more than 79,000 active Arkansas medical marijuana ID cardholders who have one or more of the 18 approved medical conditions (as of September 2021). By examining data for Arkansans who have qualified for medicinal use, this research will help inform the potential role of cannabis in medical therapy.