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Canopy Growth’s $3 million professorship looks to solve the opioid epidemic with cannabis — but it won’t

By Laura Kuhl
Jan 09, 2019

Canada’s number one Licensed Producer and Jim Cramer’s favorite marijuana stock, Canopy Growth Corp. (TSX:WEED) (NYSE:CGC) recently announced the first Professor of Cannabis Science at the University of British Columbia, made possible by a $2.5 million donation and $500,000 from the province. The vanity project, part of the company’s focus on social responsibility, seeks to explore the role of cannabis in the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Canopy Growth jumped at the chance to use their position as a leader in cannabis research and development to enrich the university, helping to appoint Dr. M-J Milloy as the first Professor of Cannabis Science. Dr. Milloy, a research scientist at British Columbia’s Centre on Substance Abuse, brings experience with the medical application of cannabis for patients with substance use disorders. Accordingly, he claims his research has already uncovered a positive relationship between cannabis use and the likelihood of patients remaining in addiction therapies.

[EXCLUSIVE: Univ. of Oregon Prof. Benjamin Hansen talks interstate commerce as Oregon’s cannabis problems come close to crossing the line]

The province of British Columbia declared a public health emergency after more than 4,000 Canadians died from opioid overdoses in 2017.

"We need all-hands-on-deck to save lives and help people find the treatment and recovery services that will work for them long term," said Judy Darcy, British Columbia’s first and only Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “This first-of-its-kind professorship will lead research and clinical trials on how cannabis products can be used to address the overdose crisis that is taking three to four lives a day."

Dr. Mark Ware, Canopy Growth’s chief medical officer, noted that the country itself needs more resources and leadership when it comes to “addressing the overdose crisis,” and that Canopy is proud to be a part of that leadership.

“We acknowledge the lived experience of those affected and proudly support this significant step in building a legacy of medical cannabis research with a goal to positively impact those living with substance use disorders around the world,” he said regarding Dr. Milloy’s appointment.

Still, it’s important to note that the body of research examining the effect of cannabis on the opioid epidemic, while promising, is at best correlational rather than causational. As an article in Vox noted early last year, there’s a tendency to overinterpret the findings of such studies — sometimes to the detriment of better answers.

“Ice cream sales and the number of drownings are correlated positively, but eating ice cream does not cause drownings,” the article in Vox quoted the editors of the scientific journal “Addiction” on reading too much into medical marijuana studies concerning opioids. “Rather, sales of ice cream are higher in the warmer summer months when more people go swimming,”

The truth is, anti-addiction medications like buprenorphine and methadone help to reduce the mortality rate of people with opioid use disorders by more than half — in France overdose deaths fell by 79 percent when buprenorphine was prescribed between 1995 and 1999 according to one study — and yet these medications are near impossible to come by for those that need them. While more research into medical cannabis is needed, it’s also taking away from proven treatments that work.

Canopy has money to burn

Of course, it’s in Canopy’s interest and that of the cannabis industry at-large to promote such studies. And these days, Canopy has money to burn. Earlier this year, Canopy Growth Corp. snagged the industry’s first investment from an alcohol giant when Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ) promised $4 billion to fund and scale their global expansion plans.

This legitimization of cannabis does not come free, and Canopy is using that money to accelerate not only their medical research but new product development as well. Through their Canopy Health Innovations subsidiary, the company will develop research programs that offer insight not only for their medical products and therapies but also new infused beverage and other cannabis-based products.

[Cannabis news briefs: Congressional report calls for reclassification of marijuana, Tilray partners with Labatt, and former Coca-Cola exec joins CW Hemp]

According to Constellation’s recent investor presentation, the company views the partnership as a significant growth opportunity. Markets for accessibility and different kinds of cannabis products are emerging, and Constellation is focused on “executing safety science” to unlock the full potential of cannabis-infused beverages and edibles with Canopy.

Constellation Brands did not respond to questions from PotNetwork regarding what this safety science could be, but according to a statement, the beverage giant remains committed to their partnership with Canopy. It remains their only foray into the cannabis sector, as they will not engage with any other cannabis companies in any capacity.

As a whole, Constellation Brands will be limiting their mergers and acquisitions throughout this year to focus solely on leveraging this cannabis partnership.

“The global cannabis market presents a significant growth opportunity and Canopy Growth is well-positioned to establish a strong leadership position in this fast-evolving category,” said Rob Sands, CEO of Constellation Brands, at the closing of the investment on November 1.

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