Canadian Dispensaries and the Opioid Substitution Program

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Despite the fact that Ontario officials recently announced a government monopoly on pot sales, dispensaries in the province are proving to be a necessity in the fight against opioid addiction.

Marijuana facts billboard in Boston, Massachusetts

Marijuana facts billboard in Boston, Massachusetts

North America and much of the Western world are gripped in a deadly opioid epidemic that takes hundreds of lives each day. Data has shown that in places where cannabis is legal, people have been successful at curbing opioid abuse. With that in mind, the Eden non-profit society, which has several locations, has taken it upon themselves to combat the opioid crisis.

“[Eden] previously had done [its own] study to explore the program and how we can assist our patients in substituting their opiate use with third-party-tested THC capsules,” said Tyler James, Eden’s director of community outreach in an interview with Marijuana.com.

It was an increase in marijuana purchases by addicts looking to quit opioids that sparked the study. “We saw a demand in the market from our patients who were opiate users,” he added.

The opioid substitution program

The dispensary chain has partnered with Zach Walsh, a clinical psychologist and Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Together, in a joint study called the “Opioid Substitution Program,” both parties intend to prove that cannabis is an exit drug.

The study is underway through Eden dispensaries in British Columbia, but the Ontario locations are still seeking applicants. “In order to become a participant, you would have to come to one of our locations and speak with us about the current opiate use that you have. Whether it be through prescription opiates, or some are coming down here because they are using illicit narcotics as well,” said James.

Once a patient has completed the one-on-one consultation, Eden assesses the dosage of THC pills necessary to help each patient exit opioids. “We do follow-ups every week thereafter to see how they are improving before we issue additional capsules,” he said.

The program is free for patients

Best of all, those who qualify for this potentially life-saving program do so at no cost. Eden is covering the bill for both the program and the THC medicine.

Currently, Eden has two licensed and regulated locations in Vancouver, and three in Ontario. The Vancouver locations have all the applicants they need at this time, but the Ontario locations have openings.

At the moment, Eden is the only dispensary known to be embarking on this venture. “I believe some other dispensaries are potentially exploring it, but to my knowledge, I am unaware of any other programs going on,” said James.

Zach Walsh from UBC had this to say in a statement to the media: “The  results from the initial Eden study, taken together with an emerging body of epidemiological data, suggest that cannabis warrants further investigation as a potential means by which some individuals might reduce, or even stop their opioid use.”

There are many in Ontario’s cannabis community who remain hopeful the provincial government will recognize the importance of having a collective mindset, as well as open channels with the whole marijuana community — instead of a monopoly on cannabis.

Perhaps proof that we have a treatment for opioid addiction will be enough.

About Author

Jonathan Hiltz has been a journalist, a TV producer and marijuana advocate for over sixteen years. He has a wife, two young children and lives in the Toronto area.

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