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New findings prompt calls for wider access to medicinal cannabis in New Zealand

A new study adds to the growing body of evidence for the positive effects of cannabis on pain, sleeplessness and anxiety.

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A law was passed to legalise medicinal cannabis in New Zealand in 2018.

New Zealand researchers say a new study into the therapeutic benefits of cannabis adds to the growing body of evidence for its positive effects on pain, sleeplessness and anxiety.

Over 200 people prescribed cannabis for therapeutic reasons took part in the study, which was a collaboration between researchers from the University of Otago, Victoria University, and the University of Auckland.

Almost 96% reported that taking cannabis helped them with a number of conditions, and 49% said they had been able to reduce, or entirely stop their prescription medicine.

The study aimed to explore people’s experiences of taking cannabis therapeutically, to gather data on the quality of products they were using, their efficacy and what kinds of effects they had experienced.

Participants were patients who had medically diagnosed conditions and were recruited through an Auckland-based cannabis clinic.

Consistent reporting of positive effects

Across the sample, the most common indications for which cannabis was found to be effective were pain management (96%) difficulty sleeping (97%) and mental health issues (98%). 

Of the participants who took cannabis for other reasons, such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and difficulty eating, 98% found taking cannabis helped.

Study co-author Dr Geoff Noller, of the Dunedin School of Medicine’s Centre for Bioethics, says as with several other studies undertaken in Aotearoa New Zealand, there was consistent reporting of positive effects on pain relief, sleeplessness and anxiety.

“An important finding of the study was that participants either decreased or stopped their use of prescribed medicines, many of which were opioid based,” Dr Noller said in a press release.

“This both reinforces that they experienced some actual effect from using cannabis in that they ceased or decreased other medications with recognised efficacy, and in the case of many of these other medications, they reduced their use of potentially more problematic medications. Opioids, for example, have well known issues in terms of dependence and other negative side effects.”

The researchers say they are not suggesting there is not a place for prescribed medicines, nor that it should be an “either/or” decision.

Dr Noller continues: “There is a place for both approaches with the results of this study suggesting that cannabis products could have a role in treating patients with chronic pain and other conditions refractory to treatment by conventional means.”

Barries to accessing medicinal cannabis

However, in order for this to happen, medicinal cannabis must be affordable and accessible, he says.

Following initial laws passed in 2018, the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme came into effect in New Zealand on 1 April 2020, allowing patients to obtain a prescription for a limited number of verified medicinal products from their doctor.

However, a previous study which Dr Noller was involved in showed the majority of people who used cannabis for therapeutic reasons sourced it through illicit means due to the barriers of sourcing it legally. These include cost, and a reluctance to prescribe among doctors due to their limited understanding of cannabis.

“At present, current regulations (both for medicinal cannabis and drug checking) appear to be creating problems for many New Zealanders who otherwise report positive benefits from their use of medicinal cannabis,” says Dr Noller.

“Specific barriers include cost, with currently available medicinal cannabis products being too expensive for many New Zealanders due to the compliance costs of production imposed by regulations, and also the lack of knowledge about it for physicians, leading to a reluctance to prescribe, in many cases.”

Calls for policy changes

The authors are now calling for current medicinal cannabis policies in New Zealand to be evaluated to tackle the barriers to access, alongside more “real world studies” examining the experiences of people using the treatment.

Dr Noller adds: “These need to be augmented by doing more creative clinical research, for example, trials incorporating active placebos, the success of which could reduce physicians’ concerns about efficacy. But this takes funding and commitment from researchers who may feel nervous about working with cannabi s, with its history of illicit use due to historic policies that are now being reformed.

“These attitudes need to change.”

Read the full study here 

Home » News » New findings prompt calls for wider access to medicinal cannabis in New Zealand

Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister title and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email sarah@prohibitionpartners.com / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag

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