Could medicinal cannabis curb the opioid crisis?

Could medicinal cannabis curb the opioid crisis?

One of Australia's leading cannabis companies Zelda Therapeutics (ASX: ZLD) has been given the greenlight to commence an opioid reduction trial.

The trial at St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne will see Zelda assess the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in reducing opioid dependence in patients with chronic non-cancer pain.

The first phase of the trial, which will commence immediately, will evaluate the safety and tolerability of whole plant extract following single and repeated doses in nine patients with chronic non-cancer pain on long-term opioid painkillers.

The outcome of the first phase will inform a larger second study that will assess the impact of medicinal cannabis on the ability of patients to taper off the addictive opioid drugs.

The opioid crisis is a growing concern, especially in the United States where an estimated 49,000 people died from opioid overdose in 2017.

In Australia opioids are medically prescribed for pain management or the treatment of heroin dependence.

Prescriptions of opioid based drugs rose by 24 per cent between 2010-11 and 2014-15 from 369 to 456 prescriptions per 1,000 population, according to the Australian Institute of Health (AIH).

According to the AIH hospitals saw a 12 per cent increase in patients arriving due to opioid-related problems, and in 2016 more than 1,100 drug-induced deaths mentioned opioid poisoning in Australia.

Zelda managing director Dr Richard Hopkins says the trial could have far reaching impacts and potentially save lives.

"To our knowledge, this is the first clinical trial to be designed with a primary end-point assessing the efficacy of full spectrum plant-derived cannabis formulation containing THC and CBD to reduce opioid dependence in chronic non-cancer patients," says Dr Hopkins.

"If successful, the outcome of these trials will likely have an immediate impact in major global markets where opioid overuse and addiction is a major problem."

READ MORE: Australia's top 20 cannabis companies

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