NIDA Awards ACHI $1.3 Million For Medical Cannabis Study

Researchers in Arkansas will commence a new study on medical cannabis thanks to a significant federal grant.

The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) on Thursday announced that it and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) would receive a $1.3 million research grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to study medical cannabis use in Arkansas.

According to ACHI, the Population-Based Analyses of Healthcare Utilization and Outcomes in Users of Medical Marijuana will be the first population health analysis of the Arkansas medical cannabis program.

The study will combine cannabis purchase information from eligible consumers with insurance claims records and other data sources to foster a more comprehensive understanding of how cannabis affects medical care for consumers.

The study will also examine how COVID-19 has impacted the Arkansas medical cannabis program, including cardholder request changes, 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,” says ACHO President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson. “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.”

Dr. Thompson is a co-principal investigator in the study, together with Teresa J. Hudson, Ph.D., who serves as 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.

ACHI says the study will utilize six Arkansas-based data sources.

Data sources include the Arkansas Healthcare Transparency Initiative’s Arkansas All-Payer Claims Database (APCD), Arkansas Department of Health medical cannabis patient registry data, dispensary purchase data, vital records, emergency department records, and Arkansas State Police automobile crash data.

According to ACHI, all data will be “de-itentified with linkages utilizing the unique capabilities of the Transparency Initiative.”

“The APCD is a dynamic tool that promotes transparency in healthcare data,” says Arkansas Insurance Commissioner Alan McClain. “And by combining these datasets, our state can asses specific health outcomes, including inpatient and outpatient care visits, emergency visits, opioid usage, and new health diagnosis.”

As of September 2021, there are more than 79,000 active ID cardholders in the Arkansas medical cannabis program with one or more of the 18 qualifying conditions.

By examining data for qualified patients, ACHI aims to help inform the potential role of cannabis in medical therapy.