Over 1,100 people have died from opioid overdoses in Canada this year, and Vancouver has arguably become the epicenter of this trend. To help combat this crisis, the University of British Columbia wants to take a serious look at medical marijuana as a potential treatment for opioid addiction. That's why they've recently appointed epidemiologist M-J Milloy as the university's inaugural Canopy Growth Professor of Cannabis Science.
"Dr. M-J Milloy will be Western Canada's first cannabis science professor at the University of British Columbia and the first professor in Canada focused on researching the role cannabis can play in the overdose crisis," BC's Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy (NDP) said at the announcement Friday.
Milloy has already had success in proving that cannabis can be an effective treatment for people with opioid use disorders. His study of 2,500 drug users in Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside showed daily cannabis consumption correlated with a 20 percent increase in conformity to methadone or suboxone programs. He says he hopes to now build on the foundations that his findings have created.
"What we would like to do as a next step is test that association in a clinical trial," Milloy said.
Milloy's research is being funded by Canopy Growth - one of Canada's most prominent cannabis producers. But UBC Dean of Medicine Dr. Dermot Kelleher says the university has taken steps to prevent any conflicts of interest. Dr. Evan Woods - a fellow UBC professor and the Director of the province's Center on Substance Abuse - says he's sure the new position will be an important step in battling the opioid epidemic.
"This professorship not only represents a much needed step into an area of study that's been neglected as a result of prohibition, but is also a unique coming together of people across sectors to address a very urgent and pressing health issue affecting our country," Wood said.
There has been a growing body of research that suggests medical marijuana may be one of the best tools we have in fighting opioid addictions. That's why states like New York, Illinois and New Jersey are all considering implementing official programs to help opioid patients transition to medical marijuana. And Canada could follow suit If Dr. Milloy's research proves successful.