Canadian University Appoints Cannabis Science Professor to Fight Overdose Crisis

professor of cannabis
(Photo courtesy of UBC/Flickr)

The first ever Professor of Cannabis Science at the University of British Columbia will look at how cannabis could help fight BC’s opioid overdose crisis, the province has announced.

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Dr. M-J Milloy will be leading clinical trials to explore the role cannabis could play in helping people with opioid use disorder stay on their treatment plan.

Milloy, a research scientist at the BC Centre on Substance Use, said the therapeutic benefits of cannabis are only just beginning to be understood.

“Early research has shown that it could have a stabilizing impact for people with opioid use disorder, improving their quality of life and offering a pathway to long-term treatment solutions,” said Milloy.

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BC’s overdose crisis was declared a public health emergency in 2016, but despite escalated efforts to fight it, record numbers of people are still dying of illicit drug overdoses.

The province estimates an average of four people a day are dying from a preventable overdose; in 2018 so far, some 1,143 people have died of illicit drug overdoses in BC.

“We need all-hands-on-deck to save lives and help people find the treatment and recovery services that will work for the long term.”
Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions

One way the province is trying to tackle the problem is treatment is with opioid agonist therapy (OAT) such as methadone meant to prevent withdrawal and reduce cravings. However, research shows more than two-thirds of patients drop out within the first six months. The province hopes Milloy can change that.

“We need all-hands-on-deck to save lives and help people find the treatment and recovery services that will work for the long term,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and
Addictions.

Milloy has authored more than 150 peer-reviewed articles on how policy has affected the health outcomes of people who use drugs.

As well as potential benefits to those in opioid agonist therapy, his research also found cannabis use preceded declines in crack use among crack cocaine users.

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Milloy’s studies have also found that using cannabis every day is linked to a lower risk of starting to inject drugs amongst street-involved youth.

The new professorship is a joint enterprise of Canopy Growth, the world’s largest cannabis company, and the Province of British Columbia.

The Province has contributed $500,000 to the BC Centre on Substance Use to support research leading to solutions to the overdose crisis.

Meanwhile, Canopy Growth is contributing $2.5 million to UBC and the BC Centre on Substance Use through the Canopy Growth Cannabis Science Endowment Fund.

Dr. Mark Ware, Canopy Growth Chief Medical Officer, said the overdose crisis continues to have a devastating impact on families and communities across Canada.

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“Today, we acknowledge the lived experience of those affected and proudly support this significant step in building a legacy of medical cannabis research with a goal to positively impact those living with substance use disorders around the world,” said Ware.

“Dr. Milloy is a passionate, dedicated scientist who focuses on research that has a real-world impact, and we are thrilled UBC has selected him as the Canopy Growth Professor in Cannabis Science.”