With cannabis fully legalized in Canada, researchers interested in the plant can finally undertake investigations that were previously beyond their reach, tangled in red tape.
There might be no area of inquiry more pressing than the overdose crisis and claims that cannabis can be used to help some people manage, minimize, or even eliminate an addiction to opioids.
For several years, High Hopes Foundation sold cannabis at street market in the Downtown Eastside. Until the Vancouver Police Department shut the operation down last September, High Hopes founder Sarah Blyth argued that some of their customers were using cannabis as an alternative to hard drugs, thus sparing themselves from overdose risks posed by the dangerous synthetic-opioid fentanyl.
While there is some evidence to support such claims, the research around this question can only be described as limited at best. Until now, the Canadian and U.S. governments simply made cannabis research too difficult to conduct without running up against arduous regulations.
But Canada's Cannabis Act took effect last October. Now the B.C. government has signaled it's taking the idea seriously and wants more and better information on the subject. It's revealed that a UBC project announced last June will be headed by M-J Milloy, a highly respected substance-use epidemiologist with the B.C. Centre on Substance Use.
"Examining the potential of cannabis in addressing the opioid overdose crisis and other substance-use disorders is a top priority for Dr. M-J Milloy, a recognized leader in the field of epidemiology and the first Canopy Growth professor of cannabis science at the University of British Columbia (UBC)," reads a November 23 media release.
"This professorship will lead clinical trials to explore the role cannabis can play in helping people with opioid-use disorder stay on their treatment plan."
Milloy is quoted in the release emphasizing there is a lot of work to be done.
"The therapeutic benefits of cannabis are only just beginning to be understood," he said quoted there. "Early research has shown that it could have a stabilizing impact for people with opioid-use disorder, improving their quality of life and offering a pathway to long-term treatment solutions. In the midst of an overdose crisis, we have a scientific imperative to build upon this research."
The government's release notes that 1,143 people died of an illicit-drug overdose death in B.C. during the first nine months of 2018. That puts the province on track for roughly 1,500 deaths by year's end, likely surpassing the 1,458 fatal overdoses that occurred in B.C. in 2017.
"We need all hands-on-deck to save lives and help people find the treatment and recovery services that will work for them long term," said B.C. minister of mental health and addictions Judy Darcy quoted in today's release. "Our government has been bold and innovative in providing treatment options - based on evidence - for people living with addiction. This first-of-its-kind professorship will lead research and clinical trials on how cannabis products can be used to address the overdose crisis that is taking three to four lives a day."