Medicinal cannabis data limited, report finds
A government investigation into the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has found little evidence to support a wider review.
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne called on the Ministry of Health to provide a report, amid growing domestic and international pressure to legalise the drug's use among certain patients.
The report said although some research had found evidence was accumulating to show cannabinoids might be useful to treat some ailments, overall, data was limited.
"To date, clinical trials of unprocessed or partially-processed cannabis products have suffered from limited participant numbers and lack of data on long term effects.
"Results can't be compared across trials because they have used different products in different patient groups," the ministry said.
A 2013 review of trials on adults with HIV or AIDS concluded evidence for the effectiveness and safety of medicinal cannabis was lacking.
But the report cited "recent developments" in Australia toward allowing the use of medicinal cannabis.
Late last year, the New South Wales Government announced A$9 million (NZ$9.3m) to support clinical trials, and the Victorian Government asked the Law Reform Commission to report on options for changes to legislation to allow people with terminal or life-threatening illness to be treated with cannabis.
But the ministry here said one of the major challenges to any potential law change would be developing a regulatory regime for the production, manufacture and supply of cannabis to patients. Dunne, who spoke on the topic at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna last week, said the evidence was "underwhelming".
"So I took the opportunity there to discuss with both the United States Federal Director of Drug Policy and Australia's Assistant Health Minister on the work being done in both countries in the area of clinical trials.
"In both cases, the response was similar: it is simply too early to draw definitive conclusions."
The Government would not be changing its stance on the use of medicinal cannabis, but Dunne said it needed to be addressed as and when new evidence emerged.
New Zealand already regulates the medical use of one cannabinoid product, but in highly restricted circumstances.
That only product available in New Zealand is Sativex, which is unfunded and costs about $1000 a month for patients using it.
In 2010, a Law Commission report stated there was "no reason why cannabis should not be able to be used for medicinal purposes in limited circumstances".
Under a proposed scheme, people suffering from chronic or debilitating illnesses would be able to use cannabis under medical supervision, particularly where conventional treatment options had proven ineffective.
The proposal was rejected by justice minister of the time, Simon Power.
- The Dominion Post