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Fighting the Opioid Crisis: Give Cannabis a Chance

May 30, 2017 • 10:53 AM EDT
5 MIN READ  •  By Michael Berger
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Fighting the Opioid Crisis: Give Cannabis a Chance

If you’re a Canadian who suffers from chronic pain, watch out.  A perfect storm is coming your way.

It’s one that’s already engulfing the US.

New government-endorsed opioid-prescribing guidelines for doctors were announced earlier this month. And they’re sure to be a tough pill to swallow for many chronic pain sufferers. 

To this point, Canadian doctors are now being advised by the government to cut back opioid prescriptions by at least half. (US doctors were given a same directive a year ago.)

All across Canada, thousands of doctors are already seizing the initiative. Some are even cutting patients off cold turkey.

Now the rest are about to follow their lead.

This is all in response to the deadly opioid crisis, which is spiralling out of control.  

At the same time, fewer than one in ten doctors are willing to prescribe an ideal substitute –– medical cannabis. 

This even includes CBD-dominant cannabis, which is the kind that is non psychoactive, meaning it won’t get you “high”.

Until recently, Canadian and US medical authorities and government regulators didn’t seem to have a problem with ordinary taxpayers becoming addicted to opioids like OxyContin.

They’ve been turning a blind eye to the routine over-prescription of powerfully addictive opioids since they first became part of mainstream medicine over two decades ago.  

In fact, one opioid prescription was written for every two Canadians last year. That’s proportionally more than any nation on the planet, other than the US, where even more painkillers were handed out.

Yet the Hippocratic Oath and sacrosanct duty of every doctor includes the following, “First, do no harm.”

However, all-too-many family doctors have inadvertently violated this bond of trust between doctor and patient by dolling out opioids like candy at Halloween.

So now they have a heightened responsibility to address the mess they’ve created in conjunction with the big pill-pushing pharmaceutical companies, such as the makers of the infamous painkiller, OxyContin.

Here’s how this needs to be done.

First, doctors need to stop complaining that there’s not enough empirical evidence as to the efficacy of cannabis as a viable form of medicine.

Now it’s true that few clinical studies have actually been conducted in North America. But that’s entirely due to meddling by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in the US and opposition from the mainstream medical community in Canada.

Yet there’s already a veritable mountain of anecdotal evidence collected by medical professionals that strongly suggests cannabis can treat a variety of conditions, including chronic pain.

Doctors should also stop fretting over the safety of cannabis. This is becoming a tired, redundant argument. Nobody dies from consuming cannabis because it’s non toxic, even in large doses.


There’s a big irony here. Doctors have long been proponents of powerful opioids because these FDA-approved drugs were once considered to be safe and non-addictive. All the clinical trials conducted before they were approved for sale suggested this to be the case.

Yet the so-called empirical data proved to be wrong!

Meanwhile, all the headline-grabbing anecdotal evidence concerning these drugs has clearly shown them to be very addictive. So too can they be lethally toxic when patients over-medicate, or when they’re combined with alcohol or certain other legal drugs. 

Consequently, society is experiencing the worst drug epidemic we’ve ever seen –– one that has ensnared people from a whole spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds.  

Worst of all, peoples’ lives are on the line. Tens of thousands of North Americans are dying each year from accidentally overdosing on opioids.

In many cases, it’s happening with legally-obtained, doctor-prescribed pills. But in most cases, chronic pain-riddled patients are succumbing to illegally manufactured opioids, including fentanyl and even heroin.

Why? Because they’re increasingly turning to the black market in desperation after their opioid prescriptions are dramatically reduced or cut off completely.

To make matters worse, alternative therapies are hard to access. For example, there are months-long waiting lists to see pain specialists. And pain clinics are already overwhelmed.

So what needs to change?

I spoke with a progressive-minded medical doctor, Dr. Avtar Dhillon, who worked for 12 years as a family doctor in Greater Vancouver.

He’s now such a vocal advocate of medical marijuana that he has become the chairman of an industrial-scale grower of pharmaceutical-grade medical marijuana, Emerald Health Therapeutics (TSX.V: EMH). 


His perspective is hard to argue with.

First, he says, physicians need better education about the benefits of medical marijuana. Second, there needs to be more doctor-patient conversations about managing pain with alternative treatments to opioids, he says.

“In particular, doctors need to realize that there are now much better delivery options for delivering cannabinoids that they can offer patients than just smoking, which of course has inherent health risks,” he adds.

To this point, his company is focused on the science-driven development of pharmaceutical-grade “extracts”. More specifically, Emerald Health has developed pharmaceutical-grade cannabis oils for the management of chronic pain and a range of other ailments.  

“This provides medical patients and doctors, alike, with a much more familiar, safer form of ingestion than smoking,” Dr. Dhillon says.

“It also offers such benefits as a longer-acting therapeutic effect than is the case with smoking.”

With regards to the majority of patients who want to avoid getting “high”, Dr. Dhillon says that non-psychoactive CBD-dominant oils are the obvious choice; they are effective at managing many kinds of chronic pain.

“In fact, Emerald Health recently launched what is believed to be the highest potency CBD oil in the industry. And it’s virtually free of the mind-altering chemical THC. So people can function normally while mitigating their chronic pain.”

Emerald Health and several rival companies are hoping to soon launch Health Canada-approved cannabis oil capsules that have very precise doses.  

This promises to be a game-changer that will further invalidate the anti-cannabis dogma that Canada’s mainstream medical community is still clinging to. 

Ultimately, cannabis can effectively replace opioids for many chronic pain sufferers. In other instances, it can at least help wean them off a dependence on large doses.

Both scenarios will save countless lives. So let’s give cannabis a chance.

Article Written By: Marc Davis, Publisher/Managing Editor @


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Authored By

Michael Berger

Michael Berger is Managing Partner of StoneBridge Partners, LLC and Founder of Prior to entering the cannabis industry, Michael was an Equity Research Analyst at Raymond James Financial covering the Energy Sector. Michael has been featured in publications such as The Street, Bloomberg, US Money News, and hosts various cannabis events across North America.


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