Pubdate: Thu, 24 Aug 2017
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Matt Robinson
Page: 12


A Nanaimo-based researcher has found medicinal cannabis can reduce or
prevent opioid use and can even offer addicts an exit strategy.

In an academic paper published this month in the Harm Reduction
Journal, Philippe Lucas concluded governments and health care
providers should immediately implement "cannabis-based interventions"
in the opioid overdose crisis.

For Lucas, years of research have rebutted government lines that
cannabis is a "gateway drug" and have instead shown it can be an "exit
drug" for problematic substance use.

"There's a growing body of evidence that cannabis can be a safer
substitute and play a harm-reduction role by reducing the use of
prescription opioids, reducing the use of alcohol, and even reducing
the use of tobacco and illicit substances," Lucas said.

When Lucas started working with medical cannabis patients in the late
1990s, many of those he saw had contracted HIV, AIDS, or hepatitis C
through injection drug use.

"They were getting doctors' recommendations for the use of cannabis to
deal officially with (their symptoms), but as I was working with these
patients, they would tell me: 'You know, I've got a scrip for AIDS,
but really, I'm using cannabis because when I eat a cookie or I smoke
a joint, I don't have a craving to go out there and use heroin or use
crystal meth.'" That led Lucas to research cannabis substitution.
Unlike opioids, cannabis has "no chance of (fatal) overdose, far less
of a chance of developing dependence, and you don't have a lot of the
similar side effects you do with opioids," Lucas said.

Meanwhile, overdose deaths - many involving the opioid painkiller
fentanyl - have hit record numbers in B.C. More people have already
died this year from fatal overdoses in Vancouver than in all of 2016,
and scores more are likely to die by the end of the year.

Among other recommendations, Lucas said doctors should consider
prescribing cannabis rather than opioids as a treatment option for
chronic pain.

"We're right now in the throes of an opioid overdose epidemic and we
need novel interventions," he said.

Separately, Lucas recently received ethics approval for a study on the
use of cannabis as an adjunct treatment for methadone and suboxone.
Half of the participants in the study will take the opioid medications
without cannabis, the other half will take them with a prescription
for medical cannabis, and the researchers will examine the groups'
success rates. Results are expected by next fall.

Perry Kendall, B.C.'s chief provincial health officer, has said
marijuana may offer a less-dangerous alternative for people struggling
with chronic pain, and is already being used in the Downtown Eastside
as a harm reduction tool.

Earlier this summer, community activist and former Parks Board
commissioner Sarah Blyth sparked an online fundraiser "to implement
mobile cannabis dispensing units throughout the city, to provide aid
to those most in need." More than $1,300 had been donated as of
Wednesday in support of what has been dubbed the High Hopes Foundation.

- - With files from The Canadian Press
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MAP posted-by: Matt