‘My Doctor Said ‘No’’ – Medical cannabis in Arkansas

by Storm Nolan ([email protected]) 3,778 views 

Lori Eisenhart from Greenwood, Ark., has multiple qualifying conditions that would make her eligible for a medical cannabis patient card. When Arkansans voted 53% in favor of medical cannabis in November of 2016, she was excited about the prospect of getting relief from cannabis.

Lori has made a point of avoiding prescription opiates because of their negative side effects, and she views marijuana as a perfect alternative for managing her conditions. When Lori worked up the courage to speak with her primary care physician (PCP) about the topic and set an appointment, she was surprised by a sign on the clinic door: “We Do Not Prescribe Narcotics.” That left Lori in search of another physician who would write a certification.

We hear similar stories over and over again at patient conferences hosted by the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association (ACIA). Arkansas patients are having a hard time convincing their doctors to write medical cannabis certifications.

Myth: Doctors are writing medical cannabis prescriptions.
Fact: Arkansas physicians are only certifying that a patient has one of the qualifying conditions on the Arkansas Department of Health’s (ADH) approved list. Doctors are not prescribing or even recommending cannabis to patients.

Myth: Doctors who receive any federal funds are prohibited from writing cannabis certifications.
Fact: Any M.D. or D.O. who is licensed to practice medicine in Arkansas and has a DEA number can write medical cannabis certifications, according to Joy Gray, the Medical Marijuana Section Chief at the ADH.

The issue that patients are running into is that many Arkansas physicians don’t understand how the medical cannabis program works in our state, and many large healthcare and hospital groups are instructing their doctors to not write cannabis certifications. Moreover, most doctors don’t understand the medical benefits of cannabis, as doctors are not taught about medical marijuana in medical school, and most busy doctors haven’t had the time to learn about it in the short time since its passage in November.

Education is the primary issue, and the main goal of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association is to educate patients and physicians about medical cannabis. We are addressing this issue by holding cannabis patient conferences where out-of-state doctors and nurses explain the scientifically-proven benefits of the compounds found in the cannabis plant, most importantly, THC and CBD. At these conferences we address patient questions about the efficacy of cannabis in treating certain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and even cancer. We also discuss available dosing methods which include tinctures and oils, vaporizing dried flower, using topical creams, ingesting cannabis edibles, and even using suppositories.

Dr. Joe Goldstritch of Iowa, who specializes in cancer treatment, told patients at the recent Fort Smith patient symposium, attended by 300 people, that about half of his patients who have cancer benefit from medical cannabis. In about a quarter of his cases he has seen tumors shrink, sometimes to the point of disappearing entirely. The other quarter of his patients see growing, malignant tumors cease their growth, keeping cancer from spreading through the rest of their body. The other half of his patients may not see any effect on their cancerous tumors directly, but they can benefit from the treatment of side effects, most notably pain and appetite loss.

Dr. Tammy Post of Springdale, Ark., explained how cannabis interacts with the human body. We have an endocannabinoid system that ties in with our nervous system and is involved in a variety of physiological processes that affect mood, pain-sensation, appetite, and memory. The body manufactures its own cannabinoid compounds, most notably anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol. THC and CBD, compounds found in the cannabis plant, mimic these natural cannabinoids produced by the body, and by doing so, are able to bind with the cannabinoid receptors found in the body’s endocannabinoid system. This explains how cannabis interacts with the body and why it has so many medical uses.

Many Arkansas residents have heard stories from friends and family who live in other states about how marijuana has helped patients. These anecdotes have convinced many Arkansans that cannabis can be effective medicine, and many are interested in obtaining patient cards allowing them to purchase cannabis when it becomes available. The problem that patients are running into is that their PCPs are unwilling to write these certifications.

To help connect patients with willing physicians, the ACIA has created a Doctor Locator at ARcannabis.org, listing Arkansas physicians who are willing to publicly state they they will write medical marijuana certifications for patients. We have eight doctors listed at this time, and are adding more as we connect with those willing to be included.

To date, the ADH has approved 284 Arkansas patients, with more than 1,000 applications in process. With the Doctor Locator, Lori was able to connect with a physician in the Fort Smith area, and has already submitted her application to the ADH. Patients can expect medical cannabis to be available for purchase in early 2018.
Editor’s note: Storm Nolan is a Fort Smith-based developer and founder of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association. Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may or may not represent the opinion of the owners of Talk Business & Politics.