Researchers to study motives for cannabis use and its potential harm-reduction benefits among Indigenous populations

The Indigenous-led research is described as among the first of its kind in Canada.

Sam Riches 3 minute read December 8, 2021

"Historically Indigenous Peoples have been excluded in cannabis research," said UBCO professor Dr. Farrell. Jim Mone / Canadian Press

An Indigenous-led research team at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO) is set to examine cannabis use among Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island, the school has announced.

In partnership with Woodland Cree First Nation and Indigenous Bloom, an Indigenous cooperative of cannabis retail and cultivation, the research team will look to uncover the impacts of cannabis use since legalization.

Of particular interest is motives of use, especially in regards to pain management or substitution of other substances, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, a study published in the journal, Applied Health Economics and Health Policy, found that legalizing cannabis has led to a “marked decline” in the volume of opioids prescribed across Canada.

The study authors reached that conclusion after pouring over national prescription claims data from private and public payers between January 2016 and June 2019.

“Our findings support the hypothesis that easier access to cannabis for pain may reduce opioid use for both public and private drug plans,” they wrote.

Similarly, a 2020 study published in the Journal of Health Economics found that increasing access to low-THC, high-CBD products in Italy led to significant decreases in the number of dispensed anxiolytics, sedatives and antipsychotics.

In an interview with UBCO, Dr. Farrell, an adjunct professor in the school’s psychology department, discussed why this new research initiative is unique.

“To date, much of the research on cannabis use has centred on non-Indigenous populations in what is currently called ‘Canada,’ and historically Indigenous Peoples have been excluded in cannabis research,” Dr. Farrell said.

“Ensuring equity and inclusion in cannabis research is important. When it comes to understanding motives for cannabis use among Indigenous Peoples—including assessing both risk for problematic use and potential benefits of therapeutic use for symptoms of chronic pain, anxiety, sleep and substitution—there is much to learn that can support health and wellness in Indigenous communities and inform public health programming.”

Dr. Farrell noted an increase in alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as record-high opioid-related overdoses.

“We are battling multiple public health emergencies right now and it’s important we know about the impacts of COVID-19 and patterns of substance use in Indigenous populations, and whether as in previous research, cannabis is having a harm reduction benefit,” Dr. Farrell said.

Individuals 18 years or older who identify as First Nations (status/non-status), Inuk or Métis, and are interested in learning about or participating in the project can email walsh.lab@ubc.ca.

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