Pubdate: Tue, 28 Feb 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Mike Hager
Page: S1


More than half the medical-marijuana patients in a new study said they
use cannabis to help them get off heavier prescription drugs, with the
largest percentage saying pot acts as a substitute painkiller for opioids.

The new research, published in the peer-reviewed International Journal
of Drug Policy but funded by a licensed cannabis grower Tilray, adds
to a small body of science that suggests patients are effectively
using marijuana to replace opioids, a class of legal and illicit
painkillers that has led to an ongoing crisis that killed hundreds of
Canadians last year.

The study of 271 Tilray patients found 53 per cent were using the drug
for pain, with the next most common reason being the treatment of
mental-health issues, such as eating disorders or post traumatic
stress disorder, at 15 per cent. Of those who claimed they had dropped
pharmaceutical drugs for cannabis, 32 per cent switched from opioids;
16 per cent from benzodiazepines and 12 per cent from

Co-author Zach Walsh, a clinical psychologist and cannabis researcher
at the University of British Columbia, said the new paper proves
further studies are needed to investigate how well cannabis stacks up
against opioids in reducing pain.

"It doesn't surprise me, given our increasing recognition of some of
the problems with opioids," Dr. Walsh said of the results from the
107-question online survey that was conducted last summer. "Now the
truth is coming out and people are looking for other

The majority of patients who said they had replaced opioids or
tranquillizers said the main reason for their switch was because
cannabis had less problematic side effects, Dr. Walsh said.

Philippe Lucas, head of patient services at Nanaimo-based grower
Tilray, was co-author of the study.

Last November, Dr. Walsh and a team of five other researchers from the
University of British Columbia and two American institutions reviewed
all studies involving mental health and marijuana published since
1960, and found a pronounced link between opioids and cannabis.

Last year, The Globe and Mail found fewer Canadian veterans have
sought prescription opioids and tranquillizers in recent years, while
at the same time, prescriptions for medical marijuana have

It is not clear whether the two are related, but the trend echoes what
researchers have found in U.S. states with medical-marijuana laws,
where significant declines in opioid overdoses suggest that people may
be substituting these oft-abused medicines with cannabis.

A handful of licensed growers have funded trials to make a stronger
case for using cannabis to treat a variety of ailments, but Canada's
medical establishment is weary to endorse the drug because of the
dearth of clinical evidence.

Arthur Caplan, a world-renowned medical ethicist, said research funded
by drug companies has sometimes been influenced by these sponsors,
which often don't publish negative results.

But, the fact that the new study was peer reviewed somewhat balances
off any potential conflict of interest on the part of Tilray, which
has a financial stake in the topic, he added.

"I would still like to see more studies by independent investigators,"
said Mr. Caplan, head of medical ethics at New York University's
school of medicine.

"Still, bottom line, better something [from Canada's licensed growers]
than nothing."

Mr. Caplan said Ottawa should step up to fund studies looking into the
benefits of cannabis.

The federal government is expected to announce new forms of such
funding once it rolls out legislation this spring legalizing the
recreational sale of cannabis.

Addictions experts have called on the government to both study the
dangers associated with the drug, such as impaired driving and more
young people using it, but also pot's potential public-health
benefits, such as people substituting cannabis for alcohol or opioids.
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