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Survey Highlights Medicinal Cannabis Users’ Need To Shift To Legal Channels Amidst Growing Social Media & Darknet Trends

In a groundbreaking survey recently conducted by Massey University's Shore and Whāriki Research Centre, the emerging pattern of medicinal cannabis users resorting to unconventional channels for acquiring their medication has been highlighted. The findings emphasise concerns about potential risks associated with these non-traditional purchasing methods and the pressing need for legal avenues.

Lead researcher at Massey University, Associate Professor Chris Wilkins, expressed astonishment at the significant share of the illicit drug market traded through platforms like Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and Instagram, in addition to a persistent presence on darknet markets.

Spanning from Aug 22 to Feb 23, the survey gathered responses from a diverse sample of 13,000 participants. Startlingly, 85% of medicinal cannabis users admitted to not seeking a prescription from healthcare providers. Among these respondents, 56% cited the prohibitive cost as the primary reason for avoiding medical consultation, while 44% pointed to the enduring stigma surrounding medicinal cannabis.

Dr. Waseem Alzaher, Founder of Cannabis Clinic, emphasised the pervasive stigma associated with medicinal cannabis, stating, "There is still a lot of stigma around medicinal cannabis. We are on a mission to change this." Dr. Alzaher revealed that, in the last 90 days, over half of their patients acknowledged using medicinal cannabis without a prescription, highlighting the urgency of addressing existing barriers to legitimate access.

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''The amount of judgement and rejection that patients currently face in the healthcare system in New Zealand when they are trying to access medicinal cannabis is frequent. Before coming to us at the Cannabis Clinic, we have found it is very common for our patients to have been brushed off by the public health system or laughed at for wanting to try medicinal cannabis.

The reality is that the people who need our help the most are often the ones who are missing out.'' Dr. Alzaher says.
Remarkably, Dr. Alzaher also noted that prices for medicinal cannabis have substantially decreased in recent times, with some instances being more cost-effective than the illegal market. He emphasised, "Contrary to popular belief, there has been a notable decrease in cannabis prices recently. In some instances, it is now cheaper to access medicinal cannabis through legal channels challenging the misconception that it is more expensive through illegal markets."

Survey findings from Massey University's research showed that social media platforms, including Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and Instagram, account for an increasing share of the illicit drug market, reaching 29% for cannabis purchases and 17% for MDMA/ecstasy.

The darknet continues to play a role in the drug market, with 2% of survey respondents reporting purchases in the past six months.

The research points to a concerning shift in New Zealanders' drug-purchasing behavior, raising potential health risks for people exposed to unfamiliar substances through social media channels.

''The problem with purchasing medicinal cannabis through these illegal means can be extremley harmful and potentially life-threatening. You can't be sure of the dosage you are receiving, the product is unregulated and not tested and therefore could have harmful pesticides and heavy metals included, furthermore you can't be sure of the effacity of the product.'' Dr. Alzaher.

Dr. Alzaher urged a shift in perception, stating, "We need to break down the barriers preventing people from seeking legal avenues for medicinal cannabis. Stigma and cost should not be hindrances to accessing much-needed relief that legal, safe and effective medicinal cannabis can offer."

*References - Massey University's Shore and Whāriki Research Centre

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