Worldwide, cannabis is the third most commonly-used substance after alcohol and tobacco. Aside from recreational use, chronic pain management is often cited as a key reason for its use, which to be honest, is not exactly a new idea. For thousands of years cannabis has been integrated into folk medicine and religious ceremonies to alleviate a variety of ailments. Around 200AD, a Chinese surgeon, Hua Tuo, became the first recorded physician to use cannabis as an anaesthetic during surgery. Interestingly, the word for anaesthesia in Chinese, mázui, literally means ‘cannabis intoxication’.
In more recent years, numerous studies on cannabis-based products or cannabidiol (CBD) have been undertaken, with research suggesting tangible therapeutic benefits for a range of conditions, including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, neuropathic pain, Parkinson’s disease, anxiety and arthritis, among others.
Currently, countries with laws legalising or decriminalising the use of cannabis for medical reasons include Canada, Germany, Colombia, Australia, Chile, Finland, Turkey, Uruguay, the Netherlands, Peru, the Czech Republic and the USA (some states).
New Zealand is working on joining them.
Until recently, New Zealand medical practitioners required approval from the Ministry of Health to prescribe any cannabis-based products. Late last year however, in response to advice from the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs, the New Zealand Government passed the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Regulations 2017, which reduced the restrictions that previously applied to CBD products. While patient accessibility to medical marijuana has improved since the law change, the Ministry of Health explicitly points out that the use of unprocessed or non-standardised cannabis leaf or flower preparations is still restricted.
The regulation amendment means that CBD is now no longer classed as a controlled drug and allows Kiwi doctors to prescribe CBD products at their discretion. Further, pharmacies, medical practitioners and wholesalers are exempt from the requirement to have an import licence for CBD products.
A further expansion of the new law amendment is currently at Parliamentary Select Committee after passing its first reading in parliament at the end of January. Introduced by Labour Party MP, Dr. David Clark, the bill proposes easing the suffering of people dying in pain by providing an exception and a statutory defence so that terminally ill people may possess and use illicit cannabis.
Interestingly, at around the same time, Green Party MP, Chloe Swarbrick introduced a bill that would take the Labour Party initiative even further and allow people suffering from a terminal illness or chronic pain to legally grow their own cannabis. Although 78% of New Zealanders agreed with the premise of the Green Party medicinal cannabis bill, this one failed at its first reading, 47 votes to 73.
So, more legal changes may be on the horizon for medical cannabis use within New Zealand. As Dr David Clark points out, “Many New Zealanders will have watched a loved one struggling with a terminal illness. Medicinal cannabis gives them another option to find relief and make the most of the time left to them”. New Zealand medical professionals will be watching the political landscape over the coming months, and Ochre Recruitment will keep you informed of any developments regarding medical jobs in New Zealand.