Trial being led by The Cannabis Research Institute of South Africa

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A first-of-its-kind study in South Africa will investigate the efficacy of using cannabis as an alternative to opioids to treat chronic pain.

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Researchers are hoping to enroll 300 participants in the trial, who will be supplied with a year’s worth of cannabis medication for free, reports Business Insider.

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The results of the trial, which will focus on individuals with pain that has lasted for at least six months, are expected to be delivered in late 2023.

The trial is being led by The Cannabis Research Institute of South Africa (CRI), with the objective of identifying verifiable data on medicinal cannabis, and in collaboration with Releaf Cannabis E-Clinics, which will provide access to their medicinal cannabis throughout the study.

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In 2018, South Africa’s Constitutional Court effectively decriminalized private cannabis use and some industry insiders have estimated the country’s pot industry could be worth over $23 billion by the year 2023.

Across Africa, 10 countries have passed laws to legalize production for medical and scientific purposes in the past five years, including Lesotho, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Uganda, among others.

In South Africa, authorized health practitioners who are licensed by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) can provide access to medical cannabis products. Currently, the SAHPRA does not have any official cannabis-containing medicines approved for pain relief, reports Business Insider. 

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The country of more than 60 million people has also seen an uptick in opioid dependence over the past decade.

Earlier this year, a study out of the University of Cape Town found that, between 2011 and 2020, the incidence of opioid-related disorders increased by 12 per cent per year. Men, young adults in their twenties, and individuals with co-morbid mental health or other substance use disorders were at increased risk of opioid-related disorders, researchers found.

Dr. Shiksha Gallow, a member of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), told Insider that opiates are associated with a plethora of side-effects, including sedation, respiratory depression and even death.

“With the global increase in opiate addiction, which brings with it far-reaching repercussions, from ill health to broader societal issues such as crime, the research will be focused on establishing a safer alternative to treating pain,” they added.

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Previous research has found that opioid emergency room visits drop by nearly eight per cent and opioid prescriptions are modestly lower in U.S. states where cannabis is legalized.

Last year, a Canadian study focused on patients using medical cannabis to treat chronic pain found that opioid use decreased by almost half, from 40.8 per cent at baseline to 23.9 per cent at 12 months.

Published in the Canadian Journal of anesthesia, pain intensity and pain-related interference scores were reduced and quality of life and general health symptoms scores were improved compared with baseline.

Another Canadian study from 2021 found that daily opioid use fell 78 per cent from 152 mg morphine milligram equivalent (MME) at baseline to 32.2 mg MME at six months after patients initiated medical cannabis treatment. 

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