Stephanie Lake

Study program:
Population and Public Health
Current affiliation:
University of British Columbia

Stephanie Lake (population and public health, University of British Columbia) is investigating how the medical use and legalization of cannabis might help the ongoing opioid overdose crisis affecting British Columbia and the rest of Canada.

Doctoral research

Exploring the health and social impacts of cannabis use during an ongoing opioid crisis among people who use illicit drugs in Vancouver, Canada

Canadians are suffering from unprecedented rates of morbidity and mortality related to the use of opioids (i.e., prescription-grade painkillers and heroin). Exacerbated by the emergence of novel forms of high-potency opioids such as illicit fentanyl, fatal drug overdoses were declared a public health emergency in the province of British Columbia in 2016.

In light of the planned legalization of cannabis in Canada, intriguing preliminary evidence has demonstrated that cannabis may serve an important role in reducing opioid use and related morbidity and mortality among people suffering from chronic non-cancer pain. However, it is unclear what effect cannabis legalization might have on people living with or at risk of HIV with long-term experience using illicit opioids.

In the context of high rates of opioid-related suffering among people who use illicit drugs in British Columbia, Stephanie’s research aims to explore the link between access to/use of cannabis, use of opioids, health service utilization, and drug-related morbidity (e.g., overdose and injury) among a large drug using population in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. Findings from this research can be used to inform clinical practices surrounding opioid and cannabis prescribing among high-risk drug using populations; community-based harm reduction programming; and the implementation and evaluation of the Canadian cannabis legalization framework.

Stephanie Lake is a doctoral student in the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia and a researcher with the BC Centre on Substance Use at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. Using data from two cohort studies involving more than 2000 people who use illicit drugs, she is investigating how wide-scale cannabis legalization in Canada might impact use of opioids (e.g., heroin, fentanyl, and other prescription painkillers), engagement in the health care system, and a range of health outcomes (e.g., overdose). 

Committed to translating her research into policy that will improve the health of people who use drugs and their communities, Stephanie has published numerous first-author studies in leading journals including The International Journal of Drug Policy and Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Her commentary on guidelines for medical cannabis prescribing in Canada (Canadian Journal of Public Health, 2015) was reported in over 125 print, radio, and television media outlets across the country. She is also a frequent commentator in the media on the potential public health impacts of cannabis legalization in Canada – most recently co-authoring an op-ed on cannabis impaired driving for the Vancouver Sun. In partnership with the New York State Department of Health, Stephanie recently developed a physician continuing education module on the evidence for cannabinoids in the treatment of HIV/AIDS symptoms and antiretroviral therapy side effects.

Stephanie sits on the national board of directors for the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP), and serves as co-chair of its Vancouver chapter. She was a staff writer for the UBC Medical Journal from 2013 to 2016, and has worked on several projects for the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition including national reports, policy briefs, and community educational materials.

Stephanie holds a Bachelor of Health Science from the University of Ottawa and a Master of Science in population health from the University of British Columbia. Her commitment to the field has been recognized through several awards and distinctions including the Frederick Banting and Charles Best Graduate Scholarship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (Master’s and Doctoral), a Four-Year Doctoral Fellowship from UBC, and the UBC/CIHR Bridge Fellowship.