Cannabis donation as a harm reduction strategy: a case study

Harm Reduct J. 2024 Mar 6;21(1):58. doi: 10.1186/s12954-024-00974-3.

Abstract

Background: The United States (US) continues to experience unprecedented rates of overdose mortality and there is increased need to identify effective harm reduction practices. Research from Canada describes cannabis donation through harm reduction agencies as an adjunctive strategy to mitigate the negative consequences of more harmful drugs. This case study describes the operational logistics, feasibility, and potential benefits of a cannabis donation program that was operated through a harm reduction program in rural Michigan.

Case presentation: We applied a community driven research approach to gather information from harm reduction program staff about the implementation and evolution of cannabis donation efforts in Michigan. We also examined 20-months (September 2021 through May 2023) of administrative data from a cannabis company to compare the sale and donation of cannabis products. Ten cannabis-experienced harm reduction clients received cannabis donations, with clinical staff determining client interest and appropriateness, and providing weekly pick-up or delivery. To expand product availability and sustainability, we examined administrative data from a commercialcannabis company that volunteered to provide donations. This administrative data suggests that while flower products constitute most of the adult and medical sales, edible, oil, and topical products predominated donations. Further, cost analysis suggests that donations represent only 1% of total gross sales and account for much less than the expected yearly donation amount.

Conclusions: Research suggests there is potential to reduce alcohol and drug use related harms of more dangerous substances through substitution with cannabis. This case study is the first to document cannabis donation as a harm reduction practice in the US and suggests potential for sustainability dependent on state laws. Findings from this case study provide a starting point for inquiry into cannabis donation as a harm reduction strategy in the US; future research is needed to fully understand the individual-level outcomes, public health impacts, necessary legal regulations, and best practices for cannabis donation programs through harm reduction organizations.

Keywords: Cannabis; Harm reduction; Overdose prevention; Public health.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Canada
  • Cannabis*
  • Commerce
  • Hallucinogens*
  • Harm Reduction
  • Humans

Substances

  • Hallucinogens