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Medicinal cannabis enquiries up, doctors willing if informed

The first ever comprehensive and independent survey of New Zealand medical professionals’ views on medicinal cannabis shows growing enquiries from patients and a strong willingness from physicians to prescribe products from next year, providing they have sufficient information.

New Zealand's largest licensed medicinal cannabis company, Helius Therapeutics, has released the results after commissioning Horizon Research. It surveyed 1,091 medical professionals, particularly doctors and pharmacists, on their attitudes, exposure, and knowledge regarding medicinal cannabis.

“Despite recent legislative advancements, without the support of physicians and pharmacists, medicinal cannabis would remain largely inaccessible to most New Zealanders. Cannabis products will likely require a prescription and be dispensed at pharmacies, yet the views of healthcare professionals have been unclear, until now,” says Paul Manning, Executive Director of Helius Therapeutics.

With Parliament passing The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill late last year and with the regulations, licensing rules and quality standards to be set this year, the survey reveals patient demand is already building with significant enquiries and requests.

Sixty-three percent of all GPs surveyed have had patients or others ask for medicinal cannabis products in the past 12 months. Head pharmacists have experienced even more requests, with 77% approached for cannabis products.

“This growing demand reinforces just how important it is for our country to have an effective Medicinal Cannabis Scheme that enables our healthcare professionals to meet patients’ needs and expectations around access. New Zealand’s regulators are working hard to achieve this by mid-December,” he says.

Notably, 89% of those qualified to prescribe medicines said they would prescribe medicinal cannabis products for one or more of 20 medical conditions, if they had enough information, with chronic pain the condition they would most prescribe it for.

“These results will be encouraging for patients and New Zealand’s emerging cannabis industry. The survey also reinforces to us that doctors will prescribe only the highest quality cannabis products, supported by thorough information. As category leaders, Helius is committed to delivering both,” says Mr Manning.

Mr Manning says it’s increasingly clear that healthcare professionals’ views on medicinal cannabis products and their likelihood to prescribe and dispense products, or provide information to people, is influenced by their exposure to it through patients, as well their clinical knowledge of its therapeutic benefits.

“It’s those who are well-informed that are the most enthusiastic about medicinal cannabis products coming to market. Understandably, many New Zealand medical professionals just haven’t had the exposure to cannabinoid medicines, so information and education for doctors, in particular, will be critical to patient accessibility.”
The survey confirms there is a significant need to inform the medical profession with only 24% overall feeling very well or well enough informed about medicinal cannabis products.

“Helius will be working hard to help ensure medical professionals can make well-informed, evidence-based decisions and offer confident advice about our New Zealand Grown cannabis-based products,” says Mr Manning.

Seventy-six percent of prescribers believe there will be increased patient demand to prescribe when medicinal cannabis products become more widely available.

The survey showed a majority of medical professionals’ overall favour prescription-only access to medicinal cannabis products. At the same time, the pharmacy sector is enthusiastic about stocking medicinal cannabis products to fill prescriptions, with 100% of pharmacy owners willing to stock cannabis products. Preference for sourcing New Zealand Grown medicinal cannabis products is five times greater than imported alternatives.

What’s more, 70% of head pharmacists believe that New Zealand will benefit overall from greater availability of medicinal cannabis products, with only 7% believing the move could cause harm.

“As well as clearly demonstrating growing anticipation, this survey confirms that health practitioners will prescribe medicinal cannabis products for a wide range of conditions, with the right supporting information,” says Mr Manning.

Commissioned by Helius Therapeutics and carried out independently by Horizon Research, the results are from a nationwide online survey of 1,091 members of the medical and pharmaceuical professions in New Zealand, conducted between 15 February and 4 March 2019. At a 95% confidence level the maximum margin of erroron the overall sample is +/- 3.1%.

The number who have had requests for medicinal cannabis in the past 12 months:
• 63% of GPs
• 77% of head pharmacists
• 46% of all medical professionals overall.

What medical practitioners would prescribe medicinal cannabis for:

• 89% would prescribe it for one or more of 20 medical conditions
• 61% would prescribe it for chronic pain
• 59% would prescribe it for cancer
• 47% would prescribe it for multiple sclerosis
• 42% would prescribe it for radiation/chemotherapy side effects
• 40% would prescribe it for epilepsy
• 34% would prescribe it for fibromyalgia
• 33% would prescribe it for muscular dystrophy
• 32% would prescribe it for Parkinson’s disease
• 29% would prescribe it for arthritis
• 22% would prescribe it for anxiety
• 22% would prescribe it for sleep disorders
• 21% would prescribe it for Tourette syndrome
• 20% would prescribe it for HIV/AIDs
• 19% would prescribe it for Alzheimer’s disease
• 19% would prescribe it for gastro-intestinal disorders
• 18% would prescribe it for anorexia
• 18% would prescribe it for dementia
• 13% would prescribe it for glaucoma
• 9% would prescribe it for osteoporosis
• 7% would prescribe it for diabetes
• 13% would prescribe it for something else
• 11% would not prescribe it or for none of these

How informed medical professionals feel about medical cannabis:
• 6% very well informed
• 18% well enough informed
• 42% somewhat informed
• 13% somewhat uninformed
• 14% poorly informed
• 7% very poorly informed

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