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Doctors have their say on medicinal cannabis

2 October, 2003
Doctors have their say on medicinal cannabis

One in five doctors have patients who they know are using cannabis medicinally and many more would consider prescribing it if they were allowed, a Green Party survey of registered doctors has found.

Green MP Nandor Tanczos said the nationwide survey, believed to be the first of its kind in New Zealand, showed that prohibition of cannabis was denying many New Zealanders the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

"This survey is both a reality check for those cannabis prohibitionists who seem indifferent to the suffering of sick people, and a wake-up call for the Government," said Nandor, the Cannabis Law Reform spokesperson.

"There are significant numbers of chronically ill people who are forced into going to gang houses to get their medicine, and who risk arrest simply for trying to improve their quality of life.

"The Government must realise the consequences of cannabis prohibition and help minimise the dangers that these people face," said Nandor.

The survey canvassed the opinions of 500 doctors selected at random from the Medical Council Register. 45 per cent responded, giving the survey a 6.5 per cent margin of error. Key findings included:

* 10 per cent of doctors currently had patients they felt could benefit from medicinal cannabis.

* Nearly one-third (32 per cent) of doctors would consider prescribing cannabis if it was legal to do so.

* 20 per cent of doctors currently have patients they know use cannabis medicinally

* 30 per cent thought medical practitioners should be able to prescribe cannabis for medicinal purposes.

* The more a doctor felt they knew about cannabis, the more likely they were to support its use for medicinal purposes.

"The decision about whether or not to medicate with cannabis should be between the patient and their doctor," said Nandor. "It's a signal to the Government to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis when it is appropriate to do so."

Green Health spokesperson Sue Kedgley questioned the logic of banning the medical use of cannabis while permitting the routine use of morphine, a class B drug with serious side effects and a high risk of addiction.

"It seems bizarre that society approves the administration of a highly addictive drug like morphine for pain relief, yet chronically ill people are denied the right to choose cannabis, with its proven efficacy for a number of ailments," said Ms Kedgley.

Green Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons has a Private Members Bill before Parliament to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act to allow the medicinal use of cannabis. It was announced this week that New South Wales will allow cannabis for medicinal purposes from next year.


Medicinal Cannabis Survey of Registered Doctors - Summary

The Green Party of Aotearoa were concerned to note that registered doctors had not been consulted regarding their views on the Medicinal Cannabis issue, nor was there any available information regarding the level of knowledge that doctors currently held regarding medicinal cannabis.

To our knowledge, no survey of this kind has previously been carried out in NZ, and only rarely internationally.

Key Results:

* One in five doctors currently have patients whom they know are using cannabis medicinally.

* 47 per cent of doctors report knowing of patients who have discussed the option of using cannabis.

* 32 per cent of doctors would consider prescribing medicinal cannabis products if it were legal.

* 10 per cent of doctors felt that they had patients who would benefit from medicinal cannabis.

* 30 per cent of doctors indicated that they should be able to prescribe cannabis for medicinal purposes.

* The more knowledge a doctor holds, the more likely they are to support the use of medicinal cannabis.

* There is a general lack of knowledge among doctors about medicinal cannabis

Method - Main points: In May 2003 a comprehensive survey was mailed to 500 doctors randomly chosen from the Medical Council Register. Responses were returned by fax or post. 225 valid replies were received (45 per cent response rate).

Analysis - Main points: It was noted that Ophthalmologists (eye specialists) replied to the survey in disproportionately greater numbers than other vocations (24 per cent of respondents). Therefore, results were analysed with and without ophthalmologists to determine whether the number of responding ophthalmologists skewed the results (section 1). Results were also analysed in relation to the level of knowledge reported by doctors (section 2).

View the full survey at:


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