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Change to approval for medicinal cannabis

Change to approval for medicinal cannabis
8 February 2017


Patients seeking medicinal cannabis will no longer need the approval of a minister, but instead will go to the Ministry of Health.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced the change this morning, saying he was confident the ministry could take over now that firmer guidelines are in place for making decisions on the contentious issue.

The Science Media Centre asked experts for their reaction to the announcement. Feel free to use the comments below in your reports. Any further comments will be put on our website.

Professor Paul Smith, professor of neuropharmacology, University of Otago, comments:

"Overall, I think it is a positive step that brings New Zealand into line with many other countries such as the USA.

"However, it is important to be clear about what 'Cannabis-based medicine' (CBM) actually is. Cannabis the plant contains hundreds of chemicals and about 66 that are unique to the Cannabis plant.

"Therefore, CBM can potentially mean many things. Sativex [one of two pharmaceutical-grade cannabis-based products available here] contains equal concentrations of delta-9-THC, the main psychoactive ingredient of Cannabis, and cannabidiol (CBD), but other CBMs may contain different ratios or just CBD.

"Whatever the case, CBMs are not 'magic bullets'. The evidence that they work for some conditions like neuropathic pain is not entirely consistent or convincing, but they do appear to help some people. So, it is a question of benefit versus burden for a particular condition.

"In the case of terminal illness, there is not much reason to have concerns because the harm will be minimal and the patient may benefit.

"For non-terminal illness, one issue is the way it is taken. For example, Sativex is used as an oromucosal or oropharyngeal spray and this avoids the potential harm of smoking Cannabis, which is associated with damage to the lungs even if only Cannabis is used in the cigarettes (a point often overlooked in the medicinal Cannabis debate).

"According to current evidence, there are few long term risks from using drugs like Sativex. The doses of delta-THC are low and long-term studies indicate that it is well tolerated."

No conflicts of interest declared


ends

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