Flora Cannabis is located at 201 – 3710 Hoskins Road in West Kelowna, B.C. (Contributed)

Flora Cannabis is located at 201 – 3710 Hoskins Road in West Kelowna, B.C. (Contributed)

Cannabis could be a useful form of harm reduction for addicted youth, B.C. study reveals

Findings come as B.C. is seeing its worst stretch in history for fatal overdoses

Cannabis could be a useful harm reduction strategy for young people struggling with addiction, according to new research out of B.C.

Two newly published studies from researchers with the BC Centre on Substance Use and the University of British Columbia examined cannabis use behaviours among young people and other people who use drugs in downtown Vancouver.

Together, these studies suggest that cannabis could be effective both as harm reduction as well as a substitute for illicit opioid use.

The findings come as B.C. is seeing its worst stretch in history for fatal overdoses, due to a increasingly toxic drug supply and social contact restrictions amid COVID-19 driving many to use alone.

“Contrary to common perception, many of the young people we interviewed shared that they used cannabis not for recreation but for therapeutic purposes, often to help reduce or stop altogether the use of other substances,” said Dr. Danya Fast, research scientist at the centre.

“While some youth in our study identified negative effects of intensive cannabis use, policy and provider education and training should be responsive to the ways many youth in our setting are actively using cannabis to navigate their needs.”

In the first study, published in PLOS ONE and led by Fast, researchers interviewed youth who were street-involved about their cannabis use, finding that the vast majority engaged in daily cannabis use at the same time as they cycled on and off other substances that were perceived as much more harmful—primarily alcohol, fentanyl, heroin, and crystal methamphetamine.

Fast’s team interviewed 56 young people recruited from a cohort of street-involved youth in Vancouver between 2017 and 2019.

Most reported deriving significant pleasure from the use of cannabis, though no participants in the study described using cannabis for purely recreational purposes. In fact, a number of participants explicitly framed cannabis as a form of mental health and substance use treatment that was more effective and “healthier” than the long-term use of psychopharmaceuticals and medication-assisted substance use treatment, such as methadone.

As a teen, Scarlett, a co-author of the study and peer research associate with centre’s At-Risk Youth Study, was prescribed what she describes as a “cocktail” of medications to treat her diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiance disorder.

None worked and eventually she turned to using illicit substances to treat her conditions, including injecting meth and heroin. Eventually, she obtained an authorization for medical cannabis, which she credits with helping her stop using illicit substances altogether.

“Cannabis, for me, was an exit ramp from using other, more dangerous drugs and helped make me feel better overall,” she says.

In the second study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers found that six month periods of at-least-daily cannabis use had significantly higher rates of ceasing to inject drugs.

Dr. M-J Milloy, senior author of that research, said that a growing body of evidence supports Scarlett’s experience.

“We’re learning more and more in our research how people who use drugs are using cannabis for therapeutic reasons, such as addressing chronic pain or coping with withdrawal,” Milloy said.

“Today’s findings are consistent with this research, showing that some people who use drugs are limiting one of the driving risks for overdose—injecting opioids from the poisoned drug supply—by using cannabis.”

Milloy and his team evaluated the impact of frequent cannabis use on injection cessation and injection relapse among 2459 people who inject drugs interviewed every six months from 2005 to 2018.

In any six month period, they found that at-least-daily cannabis use was associated with a 24-per-cent increase in the likelihood a participant stopped injecting illicit opioids, such as heroin or fentanyl, during that period.

They did not observe statistically significant relationships with injection stimulant cessation of methamphetamine or cocaine nor injection relapse (beginning to inject again after at least a six month period of no injection drug use).

“The implications of these findings are important given the risks associated with the toxic illicit drug supply that is fueling the overdose crisis,” he said, adding that these findings underline the need for researchers to test the life-saving potential of cannabis.

“Meanwhile, our policymakers should make sure they are facilitating access to cannabis as harm reduction by, for example, reducing barriers to legal cannabis or supporting community groups distributing cannabis to people at risk of overdose.

“Our findings suggest using cannabis for harm reduction has the potential to save lives.”


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

opioid crisis

Just Posted

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

COVID cases in the Bella Coola Valley have dropped to just four active cases (file photo)
Expanding social circles fuelling North Island COVID-19 spike

Comox Valley COVID spike the result of ‘a series of multiple social gatherings’

Stephen Nutt, left, and mom Julia Mewhort. (Submitted photo)
Mom worries about treatment delays after son’s drug death in Parksville

Stephen Nutt died from fentanyl laced with methamphetamine and heroin while in supportive housing

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

Nanaimo Courthouse. (News Bulletin file photo)
Motorist sentenced to two years for dangerous driving causing death on Gabriola Island

William Goosman pleaded guilty last fall in connection with incident that killed Jay Dearman

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

“Support your city” reads a piece of graffiti outside the Ministry of Finance office. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Slew of anti-bylaw graffiti ‘unacceptable’ says Victoria mayor, police

Downtown businesses, bylaw office and Ministry of Finance vandalized Wednesday morning

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

Stock photo
COVID-19 cases reported at Nanaimo’s Mountain View, Aspengrove schools

Public and independent schools report exposures of virus Feb. 16, Feb. 18-19 respectively

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

Most Read