A first-of-its-kind survey is being circulated in Arkansas by UAMS researchers interested in Arkansans’ attitudes and perceptions about cannabis (marijuana) as state officials prepare to make it available for medical use.
Of the 28 other states with medical marijuana, none have conducted surveys prior to its legalization that document public attitudes about marijuana as a medical treatment. Nalin Payakachat, Ph.D., who is leading the study, said she hopes to gather more than 1,000 completed surveys from across the state.
“This is a unique opportunity for Arkansas if we can get a large dataset before the product hits the market,” said Payakachat, an associate professor in the UAMS College of Pharmacy. “This will be valuable information, especially as we conduct follow-up surveys over time.”
Arkansans voted in 2016 to allow marijuana use with a doctor’s prescription for 18 medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, seizures and intractable pain.
The survey is open to those who live in Arkansas and are 18 and older, regardless of whether they plan to use medical marijuana. In addition to questions about attitudes toward marijuana, the survey, which takes about 30 minutes to complete, covers quality of life and health conditions. Follow-up surveys will be given at six months, one year, 18 months, then yearly over five years.
Over the study period, the surveys will reflect any changes in people’s attitudes and perceptions about medical cannabis. The responses from survey takers will also shed light on the health benefits and harms of marijuana when used for their specific health conditions.
Unlike with other prescription medications, physicians can’t tell patients what type of marijuana to buy, or dosage, said William Fantegrossi, Ph.D., co-investigator on the study.
“People will just buy what they want, so there will be sort of a natural experiment going on, and that’s information that will be important to understand,” said Fantegrossi, associate professor in the College of Medicine Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. “Eventually we may also have a better idea of what’s most effective – smoking it, eating it, or using it as an oil on the skin.”
Payakachat also noted the survey includes questions about the role of pharmacists who will be on staff at medical marijuana dispensaries.
“Pharmacists will be at the front gate and should be able to provide some guidance in terms selecting the appropriate products for patients’ conditions,” Payakachat said. “In our follow-up surveys, participants will tell us not only what they are buying, but also what they perceive of the pharmacists’ roles in the dispensaries.”
Payakachat and Fantegrossi have been assisted in their work on the survey by Lauren Russell, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.
To protect confidentiality, the survey contains no information that identifies participants except for an email address and phone number for follow-up surveys. Survey information is also protected using a federal confidentiality law for people who participate in research. The law has been applied in this survey through a “Certificate of Confidentiality” from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The idea for the study grew out of conversations with researchers from other research institutions, including Johns Hopkins, Harvard and McGill universities. They took the idea to 7-Hybrid Cultivation, a group that had expressed an interest in conducting research to augment its application for a state medical cannabis cultivation license. 7-Hybrid awarded $30,000 to support the study. It was not, however, among the five firms to receive a cultivation license. As part of the agreement, the results of the study belong to UAMS and will be open to the public.
The study is also supported by the UAMS Translational Research Institute (TRI), which receives support from grant 1U54TR001629-01A1 through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the NIH.