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Three years later, medical marijuana users tout benefits

Nearly three years since medical marijuana saw its first legal sale in Arkansas, residents have been studying how marijuana use has changed their lives.

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Hot Springs resident Dale Worthington, who was diagnosed with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma five years ago, said cannabis helped him get his “relatively untouched” chemotherapy treatments.

“I didn’t even realize how much I was feeling until I started looking around at the other patients, because some of them were so miserable,” he said. “They were white.” “Some of them had to get up to go to the bathroom several times because they were sick.”

Worthington said that since he started using cannabis while undergoing chemotherapy, he has not had nausea, and is able to eat whenever he wants. He was even able to drive by himself to and from chemotherapy sessions.

“The chemotherapy is horrible,” Worthington said, but he’s still alive and well, the treatments seem to have worked, and his radiographs now came back negative.

Worthington makes food or mixes it into his coffee. He said he smokes some, but uses a water purifier when he does, doesn’t go in “directly,” and also uses CBD to counteract the effects so he doesn’t get “stoned.”

He dislikes the use of the word “marijuana,” noting that it was a term used to make the plant look more exotic; The word cannabis is used instead.

For anyone on the fence about its use, Worthington said he would tell them to forget all the things they heard about, “because all the people in the ’70s who said it needed to be released and legalized were right. I don’t know why. Please take this plant and use it yourself. , because it can help you, but remember, everything is a trade-off.”

Worthington, 69, admitted that the drug can cause memory problems, and like any other drug, not everyone will be able to use it, but he invites them at least to try. For him, the trade-off was worth it.

“I’m still alive,” he said with a laugh. “I’m still laughing and living a life…Yes, I miss my memory, but everyone loses that at some point.”

Arkansas medical marijuana, which originally came from a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2016, saw its first legal sale in May of 2019. Since then, patients have spent more than $500 million on the drug. 2021 was the most profitable year, with dispensaries reporting sales of $264.9 million.

Dragan Vicentic, chief executive of Green Springs Medical Clinic, said the city has been receptive to the business, saying he hasn’t noticed much stigma.

Vicentic said he’s seen people begin substituting medical marijuana in place of the more difficult drugs they’ve been prescribed, such as opioids, and the change has helped restore their lives.

“People appreciate that they are walking away, and after they have been on opioids for a while they see that they are badly hurting them, both their state of mind and their physical being,” he said, noting that he has a sign that says “Say no to opioids” at his workplace.

Vicentic said people have also started using indica strains instead of the sleep-aiding drug Ambien, which he describes as a “nighttime” version of the drug that would relax a patient and give them a good night’s sleep, as opposed to a sativa strain. He said it is most appropriate to take during the day.

Vicentek said he wants people who are on the fence or who are considering using the drug to know they don’t have to smoke it, which may make people hesitant; Other options include using steam pens or food items, such as gum or chocolate.

Although Arkansans have reported improved quality of life since they were prescribed medical marijuana, researchers are trying to determine how it affects users statewide.

Researchers from the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences launched a statewide study to track these findings.

Dr. Joe Thompson, CEO and president of ACHI, said the state is in a unique position to examine this issue because of legislation known as the Arkansas Healthcare Transparency Initiative, which collects data to support such research.

Thompson said the researchers approach the study from a “neutral position,” looking for the good and bad results from submitting it to the state.

For example, Thompson said they could look at whether users tended to have an increase in car accidents after receiving prescriptions, or whether users of medical marijuana who had previously been prescribed for chronic pain were using the latter at a healthy rate.

Thompson wanted to make it clear that the data would not give them access to anyone’s name or address.

“This is completely confidential, completely protected, completely anonymous,” he said.

Thompson said he believes they will likely find mixed results from use, which they hope will be useful in guiding policy to expand the program’s benefits while mitigating any potential harms.

The study began in October 2021 and will be for a period of three years. It will be “supported by a $1.3 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institutes of Health,” according to ACHI’s website.

For Hot Springs resident Kathleen Anita Jericho, medical marijuana or “Mary Jane, as we like to call it,” was the “angel of mercy” for her and her husband John.

“Personally, I have found some relief in my two most disabling states: agoraphobia, PTSD, fibromyalgia, and battered person syndrome,” Jericho said in a statement sent to The Sentinel Record.

Jericho said she had previously suffered from abuse and had faced bullying her whole life. She said medical marijuana helped her “stay out of her shell,” as well as help with weight loss and her chronic PTSD cycles.

“Night sweats and night terrors have subsided,” she said, “but they still happen sometimes.

Jericho said she still faces stigma as a medical marijuana patient. She said that if sharing her experiences and her husband’s experiences helps one person decide for themselves whether or not to give it a try, she’s happy about it.

“Faith, John, and medical marijuana saved my life…” she said.

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