A clinical trial was recently launched by the Cannabis Research Institute of South Africa (CRI), in partnership with Releaf Cannabis E-Clinics, with the goal of observing how medical cannabis can help treat opioid addiction.

The duration of the trial will last for one year as it examines how cannabis affects a patient’s chronic pain. According to Business Tech, results will be provided to “relevant authorities” who can use that information to regulate medical cannabis in the country.

The trial will be led by Dr. Shiksha Gallow, who will be working with her team to conduct the study. “While the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) does not yet have any official cannabis-containing medicines approved for pain relief, anecdotal evidence and preliminary studies point towards its potential to be highly effective in pain management,” Gallow said.

Gallow explained that chronic pain is defined as lasting longer than six months. Treatments for chronic pain include opioids such as morphine, oxycodone, and codeine, which tells a patient’s opioid receptors to block pain messages sent by the body. However patients develop a tolerance over time, so the medication only works for a while, until medication doses must be increased. “Opiates are associated with many side effects, including sedation, respiratory depression—and even death,” Gallow said. “With the global increase in opiate addiction, which brings 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.”

CRI is working with Releaf Pharmaceuticals to study cannabis and find safer medical options for patients. The company’s Managing Director, Willco Janse van Vuuren, expressed their excitement for launching this study. “At Releaf Pharmaceuticals (a proud member of the ImpiloVest Group), we believe being well is a basic human right. Social, mental and physical health is at the heart of everything that we do. We are proud to be working with Dr Shiksha Gallow and the Cannabis Research Institute of South Africa in this ground-breaking study to find natural solutions to pain management that are safe and effective,” said van Vuuren on LinkedIn.

While opioid addiction has caused the deaths of thousands of people, there is evidence that medical cannabis can help treat chronic pain without risk of addiction or overdoses. Bella Dorrington, Senior Researcher at CRI, believes that this study has a lot of potential to help people. “This study aims to emphasize 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,” Dorrington said.

In June 2022, South Africa’s first clinical trial was launched by Labat Africa and its subsidiary, Biodata, who are also working with Gallow. Referred to as the “Pharma Ethics Observational Study,” this study is also analyzing how medical cannabis can help replace opioids for chronic pain. The study is working with 1,000 patients who have been taking prescribed opioids for at least three months, and are being given the cultivars Tallyman and Exodus (provided by Labat-based Sweetwaters Aquaponics). The strain called 9 Pound Hammer was also being grown for this use by Sweetwaters Aquaponics, which is known for its high THC and CBG cannabinoid percentages.

Like many places in the U.S., South African researchers are also examining how psilocybin can be used for medical treatments. In June, a study launched to investigate how the substance can help treat women with HIV and depression.

South Africa has gradually been developing as a cannabis destination. In July 2022, a township in Johannesburg (located in the semi-northern part of the country) was home to a three-day cannabis festival.

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