With the medicinal cannabis space in New Zealand still in its relative infancy, many are still in the dark as to how, when, and why you might pursue medicinal cannabis as a legitimate treatment option.
In this blog, we’ll answer some commonly asked questions about how medicinal cannabis is prescribed in New Zealand. From who can prescribe it, to the cost and process of fulfilling a prescription, read on to gain a better understanding of these essentials, whether you’re a patient or a prescriber.
What kind of doctors can prescribe medicinal cannabis?
Since April 1, 2020, approved medicinal cannabis products are able to be prescribed by doctors with a medical license in New Zealand, without needing Ministry of Health approval. Medicinal cannabis has been prescribed predominantly for chronic pain, mental health issues, insomnia, and neurological conditions, though your doctor may see it relevant to prescribe medicinal cannabis for other reasons.
In saying this, patients still face barriers to access, largely as a result of the option still being relatively new to local medical practitioners; some are still reluctant to prescribe it and may be unaware of the medical use of cannabinoids. It’s also important to draw the line between CBD and THC, as while CBD is an ‘non-controlled’ substance, THC is ‘controlled’ and therefore subject to stricter regulations.
The law also limits THC-containing medicinal cannabis products to a one-month supply; CBD-only products are available as a three-month supply.
For health professionals, we recommend reviewing our Introduction to Medicinal Cannabis guide, to discover how medicinal cannabis may help your patients. For patients, we recommend doing ample research and developing an understanding of whether medicinal cannabis can help your condition. Any supporting information you’re able to provide your doctor will be beneficial when enquiring about a potential prescription.
Can my psychiatrist prescribe me medicinal cannabis?
Yes. Any practicing doctor who is able to prescribe medication can prescribe medicinal cannabis.
Medical practitioners and prescribing doctors should have knowledge of the CBD products available in NZ, but it is also the patient’s responsibility to provide as much information as possible should they have a preference.
How much does it cost?
The cost of medicinal cannabis will vary based on a number of factors. These include:
The type of medicinal cannabis product you’re prescribed
The strength and ratio of CBD to THC
The reason you are using it, which will impact the dosage and frequency of doses
A broad range for a medicinal cannabis prescription in New Zealand is between $1 - $6 per day for patients.
With cannabis-based medicines unsubsidised by the government of Pharmac unless under special conditions, the industry is working harder to ensure patients can access medicines at fair prices.
How do I fulfill my prescription?
When you’ve received your prescription you simply fulfill it as necessary, by taking it to your local pharmacy. Your pharmacist will provide you with your prescribed product and be able to run you through the directions for use before you use the medication.
It’s really that easy.
As the industry grows and medical understanding, particularly amongst prescribing doctors, becomes more commonplace, a lot of the misconceptions and uncertainty around the benefits of, and access to medicinal cannabis will be alleviated.
For now, simply informing and equipping yourself with the right information, consulting your GP or regular health practitioners, and acquiring prescriptions in the usual way through your local pharmacy is best practice.
Now that I’ve got it, how should I store/treat it?
Proper storage of your medicinal cannabis product is important to ensure that it doesn’t degrade over time. The information that comes with your prescription will include any instructions specific to the storage of that particular product, but generally speaking you should store your product in its original packaging (including box if it came with one), in a cool, dry place that is out of the way of direct sunlight.
If you have been prescribed an oil with a dropper or similar dosing instrument, be careful not to contaminate it by touching it against your tongue, lips or mouth when administering it.
How to talk to your doctor about medicinal cannabis?
If you’re considering medicinal cannabis as a treatment option, you should first call or email your doctor ahead of your appointment. If they have yet to prescribe medicinal cannabis, this will give them time to prepare, or research for themselves.
When at the doctor, state your case clearly, and provide all the information you can. Provide any research if required and encourage your doctor to explore similar resources if they have yet to look into medicinal cannabis as a treatment option.
While your doctor can decline to prescribe it if they don’t have enough understanding of the medication, it’s your right to pursue it as a treatment option if it has been approved for your condition. Update them on clinical trials, quality standards, information about medicinal cannabis regulation, or any other information you have. You can also refer your healthcare provider to our website as a source of information.
Should your doctor still be reluctant, consider getting a second opinion from a medical specialist, or another GP. There are also a number of specialist medicinal cannabis clinics around New Zealand who offer online video consultations, and prescription dispensing services.
While medicinal cannabis is growing in use and acceptance, there are certainly still barriers in stigma, misinformation, or a lack of established understanding amongst healthcare providers in New Zealand.
Having a firm understanding of the medical cannabis landscape yourself, while knowing what it can be supplied for and why it is beneficial will put you in the best position when seeking a prescription