Kiwis will now be able to get a medicinal cannabis extract from their doctor, Government announces

Medicinal cannabis campaigner Rose Renton says her son would be smiling at the news, but there's still work to do.
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ

Medicinal cannabis campaigner Rose Renton says her son would be smiling at the news, but there's still work to do.

A mother who's fought tirelessly to have restrictions removed around medicinal cannabis following the death of her son says today's a day to celebrate, but there's still work to do. 

The Government has removed restrictions on medicinal cannabis meaning Kiwis will now be able to get it from their doctor. 

Rose Renton's son Alex brought the issue into the headlines in 2015, when he died after falling into a "status epilepticus", a type of prolonged seizure. 

Peter Dunne made the announcement Friday morning.
TOM LEE/STUFF

Peter Dunne made the announcement Friday morning.

After a long battle her son was given a medicinal-based cannabis which improved his condition, but was not enough to save his life. He was the first Kiwi to get medicinal cannabis in hospital. 

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Associate Health minister Peter Dunne on Friday announced the Ministry of Health would no longer need to approve the use cannabis product cannabidiol (CBD) for individual cases.

Nelson teenager Alex Renton was the first Kiwi to be treated with imported medicinal cannabis. He died in July last year.
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Nelson teenager Alex Renton was the first Kiwi to be treated with imported medicinal cannabis. He died in July last year.

The change would come into effect in about two months, after Dunne had signed a new regulation. 

Dunne said CBD was a substance found in cannabis that had potential therapeutic value but had little or no psychoactive properties.

Today Renton said she knew her son was smiling. 

Dr Huhana Hickey says the cost of medicinal cannabis is still going to make it hard for people to access.
CHRIS SKELTON

Dr Huhana Hickey says the cost of medicinal cannabis is still going to make it hard for people to access.

"His soul is lighter, knowing he paved the way to help people get relief legally, that's what his life has ended up being about." 

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Renton said if her son has been given CBD as a first line treatment, rather than a 'last line' treatment, he might still be alive today. 

Any new regulation and removing of restrictions on medicinal cannabis was a huge bonus, but CBD was "only half the plant", and Renton planned to keep campaigning until full regulated medicinal cannabis was available across the board. 

At present using CBD products for therapeutic use is an offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act unless approval is given by the Ministry of Health.

Dunne said he had taken advice from advisors that CBD should not be a controlled drug.

"Cabinet has now accepted my recommendation to make this change," he said.

"Therefore, I am now taking steps to remove restrictions accordingly.

"In practical terms, the changes mean CBD would be able to be prescribed by a doctor to their patient and supplied in a manner similar to any other prescription medicine."

Australia had already taken a similar step and other countries were responding to emerging evidence that CBD had a low risk of harm when used therapeutically, Dunne said.

The change was unlikely to lead to a deluge of people taking up medicinal cannabis as the supply of CBD was hampered by quality control and import issues, Dunne said.

While it was the right thing for the Government to do, it was a shame it had taken so long, Labour's health spokesman Dr David Clark said. 

The minister was told last February by the expert advisory committee on drugs that the drug was being misclassified, but sat on that advice until now. 

In that time people had been suffering unnecessarily, he said. 

Dunne's announcement this morning was important and removed barriers in place over CBD based medications, but the availability of those medicines in New Zealand would still be a problem, Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said. 

"For doctors to prescribe them they're still going to need to source the product from overseas and have that imported into the country."

Those products would not be subsidised by Pharmac, meaning cost would also continue to be an issue.  

Not all doctors would be happy to prescribe the drugs, either, Bell said. 

"There remains scepticism within the medical profession around cannabis-based medicine, so a patient is still going to have to convince a doctor to do a prescription ... they [doctors] may not be willing to write that prescription." 

Dunne had made a "very good decision", but the job wasn't done, Bell said. CBD was not the only therapeutic element to cannabis, and there were likely to be conditions that would benefit from a range of CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). 

MS sufferer Huhana Hickey, who uses a CBD drug called Tilray, said it was a great move, but did not address the huge costs involved for people who wanted to use medicinal cannabis. 

She believed most people would continue to source CBD drugs in an illegal way, purely because they could not afford the legal alternative. 

Dunne's announcement on Friday would make it easier for people to get a prescription though their GP, but the cost was unsustainable. 

 - Stuff

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