You are here
Home > News > Canadian Groups Gives Free Weed And Edibles To Fight Opioid Abuse

Canadian Groups Gives Free Weed And Edibles To Fight Opioid Abuse

Canada’s volunteer organizations offer free medical marijuana edibles to help people with opioid addiction. However, addiction experts are concerned that this unproven treatment may prevent opioid users with opioid dependence disorder from accessing evidence-based treatments that have been proven effective.

The Cannabis Substitution Program volunteers set up a table in front of a London church every Tuesday, to give away free marijuana and edibles for people using drugs. According to the group, high levels of THC (up to 100mg baked in an edible) can be substituted for opioids while relieving withdrawal symptoms. 

This program was launched in April. It has become very popular with 200 to 300 people attending each week. They form a long line down the street. The group members claim that all the marijuana it distributes was donated and paid for by individuals.

Stefan Nichol (outreach director, Impact Church) said that cannabis can be used to treat opioid withdrawal and addiction, but it could also provide some relief for those who are trying to end the cycle.

“To be honest, weed will never cure dope sickness,” Nichol told the CBC. “But it does help people sleep through a day of it.”

Cannabis Substitution Program volunteer Mary McCarty said that organizers began holding the weekly events to help address the city’s opioid epidemic after learning of similar initiatives in Vancouver, British Columbia and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“I thought, ‘You know what? London needs one of these,’” McCarty said. “It’s ridiculous what’s going on.”

The East Coast Cannabis Substitution Program volunteers in Halifax put together cannabis packages to distribute to those who abuse drugs each Monday. CBC News visited this group during the peak of the coronavirus epidemic. Each package contained a roll-yourself joint kit, a THC capsule, a THC gummy and various edibles such as chocolate, cookies, and a meatloaf slider.

Volunteer Chris Backer, who travels to the city’s north end each week to hand out the packages, says that he believes the donations can help people quit more dangerous drugs. 

“It’s breaking the cycle of addiction,” he said last year. “Cannabis has been documented to be very successful and is an adjunct to try to help beat addiction.”

Addiction experts skeptical of Edibles and Weed as Substitutes

Steven Laviolette (an addiction specialist at Western University, London) is skeptical about cannabis being used to treat opioid dependence.

“I’m not aware of any evidence to suggest that would be effective as a substitute for opioid-related dependence and addiction,” he said.

Laviolette did acknowledge that some addictions can be treated with cannabis. Laviolette has done research on CBD’s use as an aid to amphetamine dependence.

“We were able to show that it quite literally blocked the activation of these drugs on the dopamine neurons, so the neurons would stop firing in the presence of CBD,” he said. “That has really strong implications for CBD as an anti-addiction treatment.”

Laviolette noted that researchers in the U.S. are also studying CBD’s potential as a treatment for opioid addiction. He said that THC could pose a danger to people suffering from addiction.

“THC has been shown to cause overactivation of addiction pathways in the brain,” he said. “It could make it even worse because THC would be ramping up the brain’s addiction pathways and could potentially make problems like relapse and withdrawal an even greater issue for people suffering with opioid dependence.”

Dr. Samuel Hickcox, the physician lead for addictions medicine at Nova Scotia Health, said that the cannabis substitution programs do not have “high-quality scientific evidence” to support their effectiveness. He is concerned that many people may turn to cannabis to replace opioid-abusing medications.

“That really worries me because we know that people who have an opioid addiction, if they are on medications like Suboxone or methadone, that their health will improve. They’re much less likely to have fatal overdoses,” he said. “If we take that away from people by offering an unproven alternative, we run the risk of actually causing more harm than benefit.”

McCarty says she’s seen the positive effects of cannabis on those who struggle with addiction.

“People come and thank us all the time,” she said.