Last week we published a blog post that touched upon the controversial topic of opiate addiction and the potential role of cannabis. We know that cannabis can treat many conditions and provide countless therapeutic effects, but what about the dispensary? How can the dispensary industry and community help those suffering from opiate/methadone addiction? This post is going to take a look at the fentanyl/opioid crisis happening in BC and how the dispensary can fit into the big picture solution.

Fentanyl Fatality in BC

We are facing fentanyl crisis here in Vancouver. The overdose death toll is record breaking, with an average of 4 deaths a day and there seems to be no sign of it slowing down. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine, save for the fact that it is 50-100 times more potent. It is prescribed to patients to treat pain that is not responsive to other opioid therapies, breakthrough cancer pain or those recovering from surgery. But the massive amount of fatal overdoses caused by fentanyl are not just occurring in those who have prescriptions, which tends to be the case with prescription opioid overdoses. Fentanyl is also used to cut illicit street drugs such as oxycodone, MDMA, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin. All of which have a strong presence in Vancouver as it is. Dealers use fentanyl because of its potency in low amounts and how easy it is to synthesize. But it is this incredible potency that makes a fatal overdose so very likely, even simply having skin contact with the drug can result in fatality. Fentanyl, like heroin and other prescription opioids, pose a massive risk for addiction, plus its ease of accidental overdose makes it that much more of a concern for public safety.

The Cycle of Addiction

When people face their addiction to painkillers like fentanyl or other illicit opiates, they are oftentimes referred to methadone clinics for treatment. Methadone treatment is very controversial since the drug is as addictive as prescription and illicit opiates and yet, is used as treatment for people with such addictions. Given that party and street drugs are being laced with Fentanyl on a regular basis these days, the chances of quickly developing a serious addiction are high. The chances are higher that you’ll accidentally overdose. Methadone clinics are provided to help addicts get off their drug of preference, giving them a clean and safe environment to take their prescribed methadone which alleviates the gruesome experiences of withdrawal. While methadone is very effective in reducing drug use, it is also just a replacement addiction which will eventually require weaning.

We must recognize the limitations of methadone and approach addiction from a holistic approach. Meaning, we must address the problem in its entirety, not just solve one branch of it and leave the rest hanging.

Breaking the Cycle with Cannabis

Harm reduction and withdrawal management can be achieved with the use of cannabis. Although not yet supported scientifically, cannabis treatment is already being used by addiction specialists as a means of intervening and reducing harm. A study in Vancouver recruited 124 users of crack cocaine and analyzed the relationships between cannabis and decreased crack use. The study showed that after a period of using cannabis participants reported using crack about half as often as before. While we wait for more studies to find the biological reason why cannabis has this effect on addicts and the brain we must not dismiss the observable and anecdotal evidence. Cannabis, although not fully understood, is a much less harmful drug than all of the addictive street drugs combined. As addicts journey down the road to recovery and sobriety they need all the support they can get in order to heal. If cannabis is a viable option for this, it is prudent that we take advantage of it.

How Can the Dispensary Help?

In a previous post we mentioned a study done in Vancouver where methadone patients were given capsules of lab-tested THC along with their treatment. The study revealed that many participants were able to significantly reduce their daily methadone use. But the study also noted that many of the most successful participants had positive relationships with the dispensary staff and that this could very well influence the efficacy of treatment.

It is well known that recovering addicts require a certain kind of support system and good relationships in order to make a full recovery. The dispensary community is just that, a community. A community based on compassion and sharing, and such values are inherent to cannabis culture as a whole. Not only are dispensary staff helpful and supportive, they are also trained and understand the use and applications of medicinal cannabis. Having a cannabis expert provide this service is invaluable and further dispensary training and education should only be encouraged. CannaReps provides a workshops mentorship program for this purpose. We have also created the Cann Help Deck so that dispensaries, and the public, can have easy to reference information about medicinal cannabis indications and dosing. Knowledgeable budtenders are able to provide unique insights that can only come from experience. By having such an experienced support system and community behind them, addicts in treatment have a significantly better chance of success and recovery.

Many dispensaries operating in Vancouver are providing much more than just a dispensing service to medical users. They are also a place of non-judgement, acceptance, and understanding. They end up building relationships with their regulars, getting to know them as people, and becoming personally invested in their road to wellness.

The Community

There are a couple notable dispensaries benefitting the Vancouver community with their socially conscious practices and programs. Two of the most commendable dispensaries are Eden and The Village. These shops not only provide top quality cannabis products, but also serve the community by participating in social assistance and harm reduction programs. With heavily discounted flower available to those who are homeless or low-income, these dispensaries embody the true meaning of community. In fact, Eden is working with UBC to study and research cannabis as an opiate substitute.

When program participants and recovering addicts walk into these dispensaries they are greeted by warm and familiar faces. There is an authentic exchange and an atmosphere that eases tensions, allowing them to receive their medicine in a safe and peaceful environment. These kinds of relationships and settings encourage patients to maintain treatment consistency. These socially responsible dispensaries should be the new benchmark, what all dispensaries strive to be.

With a positive sense of community and continual training, dispensaries can make a real difference in cities dealing with fentanyl fatalities and widespread opiate addiction.