UBC’s first Canopy Growth professor of cannabis science to lead research into opioid overdose crisis

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Clinical trials exploring how cannabis can best be employed to help people with opioid use disorder stick to their treatment plans will serve as the initial focus of a new professorship out of the University of British Columbia (UBC).

An estimated 1,143 people died of a suspected opioid overdose in B.C. during the first nine months of 2018, reports Canopy Growth Corporation, a diversified cannabis and hemp company committed to building a world-class cannabis company one product, site and country at a time.

Leading the effort to address the opioid overdose crisis will be M-J Milloy, PhD, UBC’s first Canopy Growth Professor of Cannabis Science.

The Province of B.C invested $500,000 in the B.C. Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) to support research leading to opioid overdose solutions; Canopy Growth is contributing $2.5 million to UBCand BCCSU to establish the professorship and create a legacy of research through the Canopy Growth Cannabis Science Endowment Fund.

Having authored 150-plus, peer-reviewed articles on policy’s impact on the health outcomes of people who use drugs, Milloy brings to the professorship a wealth of experience in epidemiology and substance use. He is a research scientist with the BCSU and an assistant professor in UBC’s Division of AIDS, Department of Medicine.

Examining the potential of cannabis to address the opioid overdose crisis is a top priority 

“As a substance use epidemiologist, his research has focused on the interrelationships between illicit drugs and HIV, as well as the public health impact of cannabis regulation and the medical application of cannabis and cannabinoids, especially for people living with HIV or substance use disorders,” notes the statement from Canopy Growth. “Examining the potential of cannabis in addressing the opioid overdose crisis and other substance use disorders is a top priority for Dr. M-J Milloy,” it adds.

Milloy’s research “will contribute to an emerging body of evidence suggesting that cannabis can have a positive impact on the well-being of people with opioid use disorder,” the statement states.

“Research shows that fewer than one-third of people who start opioid agonist therapy (OAT), with methadone or buprenorphine/naloxone, remain in treatment after six months,” notes the statement. “Dropping out of addiction treatment is a serious risk factor for overdose death,” the press release reports.

“We need all hands on deck to save lives and help people find the treatment and recovery services that will work for them long-term,” Judy Darcy, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions, says in the statement. “This first-of-its-kind professorship will lead research and clinical trials on how cannabis products can be used to address the overdose crisis that is taking three to four lives a day,” Darcy continues.

“There’s a clear need for significant resources and innovative collaborative leadership from industry, government and academia to address the overdose crisis, which continues to have a devastating impact on families and communities across Canada,” says Dr. Mark Ware, chief medical officer at Canopy Growth.

“The opioid overdose crisis demands holistic and scientific approaches in order to develop new knowledge and strategies in response to this urgent health issue facing our society,” Dr. Dermot Kelleher, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and vice-president of health at UBC, suggests, adding that the professorship promises to generate much-needed evidence-based solutions.

“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,” Milloy explains. “In the midst of an overdose crisis, we have a scientific imperative to build upon this research,” he emphasizes.

Selected by UBC to receive the professorship, Milloy’s recent research includes studies that have found using cannabis every day was linked to a lower risk of starting to inject drugs among street-involved youth, and daily cannabis use increased likelihood that people will stay in OAT treatment.

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