Pubdate: Sat, 13 Jan 2018
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Laura Kane
Page: A17


Terry Lake, the former B.C. health minister who oversaw the
declaration of a public-health emergency amid the deadly fentanyl
crisis, is urging more research on the effects of marijuana on opioid

Now a vice-president at a medical cannabis company, Lake said there is
preliminary evidence that shows marijuana can help people with
addictions reduce their use of hard drugs and ease the painful
symptoms of withdrawal.

"I'm not saying it's the answer to the opioid crisis. I'm saying it's
one of the options we should explore," said Lake, who chose not to run
in last spring's provincial election. "It's very promising and
deserving of further research and there's no better place to do that
than in British Columbia."

Lake, who was hired last August by Quebec-based Hydropothecary, will
join a researcher, an activist and others for a discussion of pot as
an opioid substitute at the Lift Cannabis Expo in Vancouver on Sunday.

There have been "intriguing" early studies that suggest cannabis might
play a beneficial role in lowering the risk of overdose deaths, said
M-J Milloy, a research scientist with the B.C. Centre on Substance

A 2014 study in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical
Association Internal Medicine found that states with legal cannabis
had an opioid death rate that was 25 per cent lower than states where
cannabis was illegal.

A Canadian paper, published last year in The International Journal of
Drug Policy, surveyed 271 medical cannabis patients and found 63 per
cent used pot as a substitute for prescription drugs and 30 per cent
used it as a substitute for opiates.

Milloy conducted a study that showed marijuana may help wean people
off crack cocaine. His team tracked 122 Vancouver-area crack users
over a three-year period and found they reported using the harder drug
less often when they opted to consume pot.

He said there's a need for more formal, controlled trials on the
effect of cannabis on opioid use, and he and fellow scientists at the
B.C. Centre plan to undertake some of that work.

"We certainly have reports from people who are suffering from opioid
use disorder that cannabis helps them mitigate the feelings of
withdrawal," said Milloy, who will participate in the talk with Lake
on Sunday.

"We also know that many people suffering from things like trauma and
chronic pain, which are often the roots of opioid addiction, that they
also report that cannabis is useful for them."

Some addictions specialists are skeptical of the idea, Lake noted, as
they're concerned about simply substituting one drug for another. More
study is needed, and Lake said he hopes Canada will become a hub for
marijuana research after it legalizes pot.

While Lake may have a financial interest in promoting medical
cannabis, he said he thinks companies must be cautious about
"overhyping" the benefits of the drug.

"It's not a panacea. It's not a cure-all. It very much is dependent on
the individual, the condition they are dealing with and their
individual response," he said.

British Columbia's public-health emergency, declared in April 2016, is
still ongoing. Between January and November last year, 1,208 people
died of illicit drug overdoses in the province, exceeding 2016's total
of 985 fatalities.

Lake said he's come to believe Canada should adopt the approach of
Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs and aims to help people
dealing with addiction from the perspective of a health concern rather
than a criminal problem.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt