UBC appoints Canada’s first cannabis professor

UBC has appointed the country’s first professorship in the field of cannabis research.

Dr. M-J Milloy is an infectious disease epidemiologist and research scientist with the BC Centre on Substance Use, a partner in the establishment of this two-year position along with BC’s Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions as well as medical cannabis company Canopy Growth Corp.

In a previous interview with The Ubyssey, BC Centre on Substance Use Director Dr. Evan Wood stressed that the $2.5 million donation from Canopy Growth is “very much total arm’s length philanthropy.”

In his new role, Milloy will research how cannabis could serve as a treatment for people with substance use disorders, opioid dependencies or chronic pain. He hopes his research will lead to a reassessment of policies that guide physicians in treating chronic pain without over-prescribing opioids.

“From the patient’s side, we’ve heard that it can be difficult to get an authorization [for access to the medical cannabis system] from the physicians because there is a good deal of reluctance from them due the issues about uncertainty about dose and strains,” said Milloy.

Milloy says that UBC students — and Canadians in general — should have access to a legal, regulated, tested and labelled supply of cannabis.

He says the first step of harm reduction — safer consumption or moderation of substance use — is making sure users are educated on the effect of the drugs they’re taking.

He acknowledges that while cannabis has unexplored potential medical applications, overuse of the drug can still result in negative effects. Milloy says that fears around cannabis are making it difficult for patients to access these potential benefits.

That’s a problem because cannabis could be helping replace opioids — especially in the light of an overdose crisis that killed 1,200 in BC this year. A recent report shows that 80 percent of drugs like cocaine, heroin and crystal meth were found to be contaminated with fentanyl, a powerful opioid, in a 1,000 sample drug test in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

“Pain and substance use disorders are hard to treat” said Milloy. “We know that we need to put more tools — both pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic — in the hands of physicians who are treating patients living with these challenging disorders.”