According to a research titled "The opioid crisis: a contextual, social-ecological framework", 12 million Americans misused opioids in 2017 and more than 47 000 died from opioid overdoses.
Since 2015, the number of overdose deaths has increased significantly each year, accounting for a 345% increase in the overdose mortality rate between 2001 and 2016.
Consequently, over the last decade, opioid misuse and abuse have caused an alarming number of deaths. For this reason, researchers are seeking alternate, effective methods to combat the opioid crisis.
A year-long study looking at the efficacy of medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids for the treatment of chronic pain is being funded by the Cannabis Research Institute of South Africa (CRI).
The goal is to show medicinal cannabis’s effectiveness and ability to relieve pain while giving the appropriate authorities data that is credible, dependable and verifiable so they can control how widely it can be used for medical purposes.
In 2020 alone, it is estimated that there were 91 799 drug overdose deaths in the US, with opioids being responsible for 68 630 (74.8%) of those deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that opiates are often prescribed for medical reasons, such as after surgery or an injury, to manage moderate-to-severe pain. Any person who uses opioids prescribed by a doctor has the potential to develop an addiction to them.
Opioid painkillers are often drugs such as morphine, fentanyl and tramadol. The WHO warns that overuse, extended use, non-medical use, and use without a doctor’s supervision are all factors that might contribute to opioid dependence. Overdoses caused by opioids can be fatal due to their pharmacological effects.
First cannabis clinical trial in South Africa
Dr. Shiksha Gallow, primary investigator on the research study, and Cannabis Clinician, will work alongside a team of highly skilled doctors in the medical cannabis industry, including Dr Regina Hurley, Dr Ahmed Jamaloodeen, Dr Omphemetse Mathibe and Dr Xavagne Leigh Fransman.
While the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) has not yet officially approved any cannabis-containing medicines for pain relief, Dr Gallow claims, anecdotal evidence and early research indicate that cannabis may have the potential to be very effective in pain management.
She defines chronic pain as a form of visceral, somatic or neurogenic pain that lasts for more than six months. Given the wide range, there are many different therapies available, ranging from over-the-counter medications to opiates such as morphine, oxycodone or codeine, which tell the body’s natural opioid receptors to stop the pain nerves from communicating.
Furthermore, Dr Gallow points out that while opiates can be very effective in alleviating pain, the body will eventually build a tolerance to them, necessitating a gradual increase in dose to achieve relief. This can result in dependence.
She goes on to say that opiates have a wide range of negative side effects such as sedation, respiratory depression and even death.
The research will be focused on developing a safer alternative to managing pain in light of the global rise in opiate addiction, which has far-reaching effects ranging from poor health to more general societal issues such as crime.
Bella Dorrington, a senior researcher at The Cannabis Research Institute of South Africa, claims that the study has the potential to revolutionise the medical landscape not just in South Africa but all across the world.
“CRI is pleased to participate in this study, which aims to emphasise the benefits of cannabis treatment. South Africa is poised to set a standard for medicinal cannabis in the world’s market as we have the resources, technology and people to make it happen.”
The goal of the study, according to Willco Janse van Vuuren, head of ImpiloVest Retail Division and managing director of Releaf Pharmaceuticals, is to provide better patient solutions.
Van Vuuren further points out that solutions that take into account the demands of a community focused on health are needed. Medicinal cannabis is receiving a lot of attention as a powerful and reliable alternative to traditional medication. “Together, with your support and our care, we can significantly improve health care. We also think that having one's physical, emotional and social needs met is a fundamental right.”
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