Harm Reduction Program Offers Cannabis As Alternative To Hard Drugs

By Victoria Kim 09/14/18

The Canadian program also offers free fentanyl testing strips and naloxone training.

worker holding a tray with individual portions of cannabis

A Canadian harm reduction program is hitting the local opioid addiction crisis from a unique angle—by providing cannabis at little to no cost as an alternative to street drugs.

The High Hopes Foundation, based in Vancouver, Canada—also home to North America’s first legal supervised injection site (SIF)—is the country’s first “full-time cannabis harm reduction program,” CTV News reports.

While this isn’t the first recovery program to feature cannabis as a treatment, it’s still a rather novel idea that some consider controversial. But Sarah Blyth, president of High Hopes, says the program is a realistic approach to attacking the most potent addictions.

“It’s not always possible for people to just completely come off all drugs, because they’ve got trauma. They have pain. They need something,” Blyth said last August, according to CBC. “Opiates may not be the best option for everyone so we’re trying to give them the options we have available.”

High Hopes offers free or low-cost cannabis and CBD oils to people trying to wean off drugs like opioids, which have been a big problem in Canada as well.

According to CTV News, nearly 4,000 Canadians died of opioid overdose in 2017; about 1,400 of them were in British Columbia, the province that Vancouver resides in.

The foundation also offers free fentanyl testing strips and naloxone training. According to Blyth, the majority of illicit drug samples analyzed by the Vancouver Overdose Prevention Society tested positive for fentanyl, which raises the risk of overdose.

The cannabis program, established last year, started out by collecting cannabis donations from registered patients or dispensaries. Once Canada’s marijuana legalization law goes into effect this October, perhaps High Hopes will have an easier time procuring legal cannabis.

“What we are doing is not fully legal but we see it helps and we are desperate to help people. Watching people die isn’t okay,” said Blyth.

The program’s goal is to give people with addictions an alternative to using potentially dangerous street drugs. Blyth noted that many are just seeking relief for pain, anxiety or inflammation. “It gives them a way to have an alternative to the drugs that they’re getting on the street,” said Blyth, who is also the founder of the Overdose Prevention Society. “It’s safe, it can reduce pain.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr