SPECIAL REPORT: Putting the Can in Cannabis Research


Before medicinal marijuana is in the hands of patients in Arkansas it’s on the mind of researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock.

In February Dr. Bradley Martin, a professor at UAMS, and Dr. Nalin Payakachat, an Associate Professor at UAMS, launched an online survey for Arkansans who have, or plan to get, a medical cannabis card. “[We] asked people what they think about it, how they use it, what they use it for, and what they perceive for a clinical outcome if it helps with sleep, pain, anxiety,” said Dr. Payakachat.

The ongoing project already has 1,800 participants and researchers expect that number to grow as dispensaries open and the product is readily available for patients in the Natural State.

As part of the study, researchers will document if patients believe medical pot is actually working. If a patient believes it is, they’ll record which forms seem to work best, whether it’s eating the medication or smoking it. “When the legal medical cannabis products are available in the market hopefully later next month or this summer and see what changed in health outcome and attitudes,” Dr. Payakachat said.

In Fayetteville, Dr. William S. Piechal of Healing Arts Medical Center is already authorizing medicinal marijuana for patients who are eligible. He said he hopes research of the medication conducted in Arkansas doesn’t remain digital.

“Doesn’t remain digital,” means the goal is to conduct studies with people and not just gather information via the web.

“I’d like to see what type of physiological basis these particular indications are based on.” Dr. Piechal is referring to the 18 conditions that allow Arkansas doctors to authorize medical pot for patients.

Dr. Piechal said studies should be conducted on patients themselves to learn how medical marijuana impacts their specific ailments. “Look at the value of clinical studies when you go to produce any type of legal pharmaceutical.”

Though he was skeptical about using cannabis for medical treatment in the state, Arkansas State Senator Jim Hendren of District 2 said he supports looking into the product. “We make better decisions when we get good information and do good research.”

Senator Hendren also said the state should be involved in funding the research of medicinal marijuana. “We did implement several taxes and fees on marijuana and the idea being that it should support itself.”

Even those who plan to sell it say patients deserve to know more about what they’re using as treatment. “This is a product that’s going to be distributed and sold to the public, I think the state has responsibilities to make sure research is always happening,” said Bentonville’s ReLeaf Center Owner Roger Song.

Dr. Piechal, however, said before patients can actually be tested, the federal government will need to step in with both funding and a fundamental shift. “We need to look at getting people together to change the legal structure.”

Even with the limitations, research at UAMS will remain digital. “We’re not aware of anybody at UAMS that are working with products,” Dr. Martin said

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