Cannabis is a known alternative to lethal painkillers and illicit opiates like heroin — so much so that High Sobriety rehabilitation center in Los Angeles uses weed to help patients wean off more dangerous drugs. Now a pop-up overdose prevention site in Vancouver is doing the same thing.
A year ago, community organizer Sarah Blyth and a team of volunteers set up a supervised injection facility in a tent in a Vancouver back alley rife with opioid use and overdoses. There, opioid users could use clean needles, have access to overdose antidotes like naloxone, and shoot up under supervision in case of an emergency.
Now, Blyth’s team has added cannabis to their overdose prevention toolkit. She says weed is a better, safer option than heroin and can be used as an opioid substitute. Having recently founded the High Hopes foundation to fight the opioid crisis, Blyth says the ultimate goal is to ensure drug users know there are other options beyond street drugs to help manage their pain.
The team offers drug users different kinds of cannabis for free, including bud, edibles, and capsules to help replace opioids. The message isn’t that weed is totally innocuous — even Blyth says that it makes her paranoid — but that it’s a safer, less deadly option to help dependent opioid users cutback on their habit. “It was a lot of conversations, talking to licensed producers, reading stats and data, and hearing stories of people who have gotten off harder drugs with other drugs like marijuana,” says Blyth.
Some of the cannabis capsules Blyth and her team offer contain THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, while others contain only CBD, a non-psychotropic compound known to help with anxiety, inflammation, insomnia, seizures, and other ailments. In addition to cannabis, the team has also been distributing kratom, an herbal painkiller devoid of the same withdrawal symptoms as other pharmaceutical pain medications.
“We just decided what the hell — the mayor’s calling for access to safe drugs, well here you are,” Blyth says. And so far, law enforcement has been somewhat okay with it. While some cops have asked the volunteers to shut down and even took photos of them distributing weed, others have been more supportive. “Our position is that drug addiction is a health problem,” says Sergeant Jason Robillard. “Our main priority is reducing overdoses — not shutting down programs that seem to be working.”