Call it a sign of the times: The newest job title at the University of British Columbia is Canopy Growth Professor of Cannabis Science.
Epidemiologist M-J Milloy will be the first researcher to fill the new role, armed with a $2.5 million contribution from Canopy Growth Corporation and $500,000 from the government of British Columbia.
Milloy has extensive experience researching people who use illicit drugs. His most recent study observed a large population of opioid drug users over two decades, and found that those who used cannabis daily had a better chance of staying on substitute drugs used to treat opioid use disorder (more commonly known as opioid addiction).
Milloy told The Leaf News his first planned research project in his new role will test the findings of that recent study with a major experimental trial.
"And to do so, we would try to recruit people starting (opioid substitute) treatment in Vancouver, randomize them to some form of cannabis therapy or a placebo, and then follow them over time," he said in an interview.
"And hopefully what we'll find is what we found in the observational study: that cannabis is an effective adjunctive therapy which contributes to people staying on current therapies longer."
That will be a challenging and complex study to undertake, not least of all from an ethical point of view, but Milloy is confident it's worth studying.
"We continually hear from people in our studies, people in the community, people with opioid use disorder, that for many of them cannabis is an important part of their health and well-being," he said.
"There are a lot of plausible routes through which cannabis might be improving people's' health."
Milloy acknowledged the overarching hypothesis of his research — that cannabis can be a useful tool for addressing the opioid crisis — remains unproven, which is why an experimental human trial is needed, he said.
"That's really the gold standard, that is what is expected, to see if cannabis can be added to the pharmacopoeia for addiction medicine physicians, and so that's why we're doing the work," Milloy said.
"Might it fail? Of course. That's science."
Even though Milloy's new professorship was largely funded by Canopy Growth Corporation, the researcher said he's not worried that company will try to influence his work.
"There's very little ability for Canopy to influence me, directly or indirectly," he said.
"I am protected by the university and their very well-established procedures and protocols for dealing with external sources of funding… Should we find that cannabis has important, negative impacts on the health of people in our studies, then we will be the very first to say that."
Some Canadian media have treated Milloy's new professorship as yet another punchline in an ongoing weed joke. CBC News dubbed him the "pot professor," while the headline-writers at CTV News went with "higher learning".
Milloy said that kind of mirth is nothing new, and reflects an ongoing stigma about cannabis.
"I've heard the giggles, certainly, from others, about 'the pot professor,' 'the weed doctor,'" he said.
"I hope that legalization and moves like these to normalize cannabis research is the way of the future, and calling me the pot professor is the way of the past."
New on The Leaf
- The grow-op next door: A Winnipeg man was unhappy to learn that his next door neighbour could be growing hundreds of marijuana plants, legally. The Leaf News explores the world of licensed personal medical cannabis cultivation.
- Another cannabis professor: UBC's not the only Canadian school with a full-time cannabis researcher. At the University of New Brunswick, biochemist Yang Qu has been tapped to study cannabinoids.
- Punishment for eating cannabis-infused evidence: A Toronto police officer who stole an illegal cannabis edible, ate it, and got way too high has been sentenced to six months of house arrest.
Elsewhere on the Weed Wide Web
- Send in the troops: For years, the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP have joined forces to hunt down and eradicate illegal outdoor cannabis grows. The mission continues, reports Rachel Browne for VICE News.
- Big expectations for micro producers: Big cannabis producers are looking to partner with small-scale growers applying for "micro" production licences, according to the Globe and Mail — but Health Canada has only received 15 applications for micro licences so far.
- Photo opportunity: B.C.'s Liquor Distribution Branch is looking for cannabis photographers who can make weed look good (but not too good).