One Indigenous community is leaning into the harm-reduction potential of cannabis in reducing opioid dependency, and teaming up with a Canadian university to track the outcomes.
Earlier this week, a first-of-its-kind project was announced after a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Natoaganeg (Eel Ground) First Nation, Gitpo Spirit Lodge, University of New Brunswick (UNB) and Eco Canadian Organics.
The agreement creates a Meaningful Wellness Partners organization, which aims to have a positive impact on the community by using medically prescribed cannabis provided by Eco in a consistent dosage formula for First Nation people suffering through and managing opioid substance use issues as well as methadone dependency.
The five-year project will be lead by UNB.
While a body of promising research supports the use of cannabis to reduce the harms associated with opioid substance use, cannabis substitution projects in Canada have largely been shunned by government and law enforcement.
Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Roger Augustine — a veteran of 45 years in First Nation politics, survivor of the residential school system and Indian Day school, and founder of the Gitpo Spirit Lodge — is the visionary behind the project.
“We are so pleased that an essential joint effort is underway to enhance the wellness of the Natoaganeg First Nation People. This important initiative will help those who are addicted to opioids become well again through the use of therapeutic cannabinoids and spiritual wellness,” he said in a statement.
As a natural product, the medicinal value of the cannabis flower is recognized globally for both its safety and effectiveness for a variety of diseases and medical ailments, reads a statement provided by Gitpo Consulting CEO Tom Mann.
“Best practices for Aboriginal wellness involves a range of services from mainstream healthcare to traditional practices and medicines all under community leadership and administration,” it continues.
The purpose of the wellness and harm reduction pilot project is to evaluate the utility of cannabinoids as an alternative for treatment of opioid addictions and dependency on pharmaceuticals methadone or suboxone.
While the research component of the project is still being developed, UNB is slated to guide the creation of a plan that will generate academically rigorous, peer-reviewable results. University researchers will also collect and analyze data.
Under a prescription the medical cannabis will be administered through Gitpo Spirit Lodge by registered and licensed practical nurses, as well as personal care workers, Mann tells Mugglehead by email. The physicians and healthcare workers will be orientated to engage each member of the pilot project sample.
While maintaining ethical privacy practices, data collected will include individuals’ current pharmaceutical program, sleep patterns, dietary practices, daily routines, attendance at patient education sessions, following personalized care plans, as well as introduction, reaction, and dosage of medically prescribed cannabis.
With the eventual goal of expanding the program to other communities, Gitpo Spirit Lodge is developing a virtual reality platform to virtually share the lodge’s holistic programming, including the wellness and harm-reduction pilot.
Natoaganeg First Nation is a community of 850 members that operates the Rising Sun Treatment Facility, established by Chief Roger over 40 years ago. This facility serves four other Mi’gmaq First Nations communities within a 45-minute drive.
The model of the holistic wellness centre, Gitpo Spirit Lodge, offers traditional learning including drumming, education and training for careers in leadership positions.
Eco is a locally owned licensed producer of medical cannabis in New Brunswick.