Change to cannabis approval
Patients seeking medicinal cannabis will no longer need the approval of a minister, but will go to the Minstry of Health instead.
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced the change on on Wednesday, following hints from Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman that a change in process was imminent.
Pharmaceutical-grade products already went to the ministry for approval, but non-pharmaceutical grade products needed to be signed off by a Minister. Dunne said initially this was because of the "complicated and contentious nature of the issue" but now that firmer guidelines were in place he could delegate the decision making to the ministry.
University of Otago professor of neuropharmacology Paul Smith said it was a positive step "that brings New Zealand into line with many other countries such as the USA".
However, cannabis-based medicines were not "magic bullets", he said. "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." But for those with non-terminal illnesses, using oral or nasal spray products avoided the potential harm of smoking cannabis, Prof Smith said.
University of Otago senior lecturer Dr Giles Newton-Howes said the decision appeared "to be part of the process of 'medicalising' cannabis-based products that has been occurring internationally".
Clearer guidelines for the use of pharmaceutical-grade cannabis would help ensure the patient knew the limited nature of the literature, Dr Newton-Howes said, "albeit there is a risk that patients in considerable suffering will try anything, regardless of the sparse evidence for it".
The SMC gathered expert reaction to the announcement.