What the Science Says: June 2020

What the Science Says is a series of posts highlighting the latest research from scientists at the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU). These recurring posts feature summaries of new publications from the BCCSU’s investigators, as well as links out to companion resources to consult if you’d like to learn more. WTSS is intended to keep the media, the research community and the public informed about evidence coming out of the substance use field.

This month, WTSS reviews new research on cannabis from the BCCSU. Cannabis is the most common illicit (internationally scheduled) drug consumed worldwide. Recent policy reforms across North America have been accompanied by a shift in public perception of cannabis, and a growing interest in its possible benefits and therapeutic applications. Two recently-published articles look at the motivations of different groups for using cannabis, describe their patterns of use, and consider the crucial question of accessibility.


Lake, S., Nosova, E., Buxton, J., Walsh, Z., Socias, M. E., Hayashi, K., Kerr, T., & Milloy, M. J. (2020). Characterizing motivations for cannabis use in a cohort of people who use illicit drugs: A latent class analysis. PLoS ONE, 15(5).
https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0233463 (Open access)

According to this new study, many people at high risk of overdose in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) who use cannabis do so for pain relief and other therapeutic reasons, for example to manage stress and nausea. The researchers also observed that those using primarily for pain relief may be at lower risk of using heroin regularly and experiencing an overdose.

Drawing on survey data provided by 897 study participants, the study found that people reporting cannabis use for therapeutic purposes had poorer physical health. This suggests that people using cannabis for therapeutic purposes could be struggling with unmet healthcare needs. As such, the researchers urge health care professionals to start open conversations with people who use drugs about cannabis use and their motivations for using it, in order to determine if and how medical cannabis might help them as part of a treatment plan, and to identify other suitable treatments.

Additionally, the researchers found almost no reports of people who use drugs accessing cannabis through legal means: either non-medical cannabis retailers or the medical cannabis system. This finding suggests that significant barriers to access exist for this population, many of whom could benefit from regulated products, and are currently at risk of being criminalized for using the unregulated cannabis market.


Parent, N., Ferlatte, O., Milloy, M. J., Fast, D., & Knight, R. (2020). The sexualised use of cannabis among young sexual minority men: “I’m actually enjoying this for the first time”. Culture, Health & Sexuality.

Young men are using cannabis for sex in order to increase sexual pleasure and lower their inhibitions, according to this new BCCSU research. The study investigated how cannabis use plays into the sexual lives of young (between ages 15 and 30) sexual minority men who use substances in Greater Vancouver– a context in which non-therapeutic cannabis use was recently legalized. The young men who were interviewed shared how they used cannabis during sex, reporting that cannabis use reduced their feelings of anxiety and shame and helped them create connections with sexual partners.

This study identified a number of ways in which cannabis is employed by young sexual minority men to achieve positive psychological effects, while underscoring the need for further information on this topic. It also suggested that, for this population, cannabis may be a less harmful substitute for street drugs like methamphetamines that are commonly associated with chemsex (the use of multiple drugs to increase pleasure and sociability with sex partners).