‘What We Think We Know about Cannabis Doesn’t Match Scientific Evidence’: UBC Cannabis Science Professor
If asked to think about who has been hit hardest by the opioid crisis, many people think of street-entrenched drug users. But it’s not just homeless people or marginalized groups that are impacted by this epidemic, according to Dr. M‑J Milloy — UBC’s inaugural Canopy Growth Professor of Cannabis Science.
“We are all in this together,” Milloy told Civilized while pointing out that addiction doesn’t discriminate. “The opioid crisis, particularly evident in Vancouver’s downtown east side, has really brought home the fact that this impacts everyone across the board regardless of your socio-economic background.”
In Dr. Milloy’s new role as professor of cannabis science, he is hoping to expand the research that he and his colleagues have done in respect to the role cannabis could play in combating the opioid crisis that claimed the lives of nearly 4,000 Canadians and over 49,000 Americans in 2017 alone. That turned opioid-related fatalities into the leading cause of death among Canadians aged 30 to 39.
Now Dr. Milloy hopes to curb those devastating numbers.
‘We’re pretty confident that you can’t overdose on cannabis’
To begin his new position, Dr. Milloy says “the first task I want to undertake is to investigate if and how cannabis could play a role in this crisis. There is evidence that people abusing opioids are 20 percent more likely to continue treatment for opioid addictions if they use cannabis once a day. We don’t know if this is a causal link, or something else, but we want to learn more about the role that cannabis could play in the health and wellbeing of people who are at risk of overdosing. We want to understand how it could help them stay on treatment, so they don’t go into withdrawal or turn to the illicit market to obtain opioids.”
In a best-case scenario, Dr. Milloy is hopeful that cannabis may be a solution to this crisis. There has been a lot of evidence from research done on rats as well as humans to support the hypothesis that medical marijuana — especially the cannabis compound CBD — can help minimize withdrawals and cravings, which would help recovering addicts avoid relapsing into illicit drug use. On top of that, he plans to work toward getting cannabis recognized as a safer alternative to opioids like fentanyl, oxycodone and morphine for treating chronic pain and other conditions.
“We know you can overdose on opioids and we’re pretty confident you can’t overdose on cannabis, so there’s a lot of potential for cannabis to be a part of the solution.”
Of course, we’ve heard that for years, so it might seem surprising that the medical community is still on the fence about cannabis. But that’s because prohibition has prevented Milloy and other marijuana researchers from fully understanding the plant’s medical benefits.
“Cannabis research has been hindered due to prohibition and regulations for scientists possessing cannabis or administering it to patients,” noted Milloy, who hopes that Canada’s decision to legalize cannabis last October will benefit the scientific community by ensuring that participants in upcoming studies are protected from prosecution for using cannabis.