Researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences will conduct a first-of-its-kind survey to gauge Arkansans' perceptions of medical marijuana before and after it's available for use in the Natural State.
Representatives from Harvard, Johns Hopkins and McGill universities approached UAMS researchers last year about the survey opportunity. Although 28 other states have comprehensive medical marijuana programs, surveyors have never before gathered base line data on public perception of medical pot before it's legalized.
Arkansans voted to legalize medical cannabis in 2016, and a state commission plans to award cultivation facility licenses later this month before doing the same for dispensary licenses later in the year.
Dr. William Fantegrossi, an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at UAMS' College of Medicine, said the survey should provide data on a variety of questions, including: Why do some people want to use medical marijuana? How effective do they expect it to be? Do they expect any adverse side effects?
"It will be very interesting to revisit this in a few years when these same people have been using medical cannabis themselves or will know others who have been using it," Fantegrossi said.
The data, he added, may one day enable researchers to make evidence-based recommendations about the effectiveness of different cannabis-derived products for specific conditions.
The survey's initial funding ($30,000) comes from 7-Hybrid Cultivation -- a group applying to operate a medical marijuana cultivation facility in Van Buren County.
The group -- which bills itself as the only applicant to have a publicly confirmed banking relationship approved by regulators -- has also pledged to spend up to $500,000 annually on in-state medical cannabis research if its cultivation license is approved.
"While there was no guarantee that our group would be awarded a license, the window of opportunity was closing for Arkansas, so in August 2017, we just knew we had to fund this research," said Linda Joan Warren, a member of 7-Hybrid Cultivation.
Many cultivation facility applicants included pledges in their applications to fund research or charitable endeavors.
The scoring system being used to evaluate applications includes opportunities for bonus points if groups can demonstrate positive ways they'll benefit their local communities.
The UAMS survey is open to Arkansans over age 18 regardless of whether they plan to use medical marijuana. It can be found at tinyurl.com/armedcannabis.
It takes about 20 minutes to complete, asking participants about their personal mental and physical health and perceptions about cannabis.
Dr. Nalin Payakachat, associate professor at UAMS' Department of Pharmacy Practice, said follow-up surveys will be conducted every six months for the next five years to track how perceptions of medical pot change over time.
What changes do they expect?
"We don't know," Payakachat said, adding that that's the unique data this study should provide. However, she added that when medical marijuana is introduced, the public perception of harmful effects typically decreases over time.
As for any conflicts of interest because the survey is being funded by a pro-medical marijuana group, Payakachat said internal and external reviews will be conducted to ensure that no results are influenced by funding sources.
SundayMonday on 02/12/2018
Print Headline: Public's views on legal pot get look; Changes in state are study’s focus