After treating over 700 patients with medicinal cannabis, including both children and adults, Dr Anna Harvey believes there are still huge unmet needs and barriers to medicinal cannabis in New Zealand. Going from being a skeptic to a believer in cannabis, Dr Harvey shares her unique insight and journey with this amazing plant.
“A lot of Kiwis are missing out on cannabis” – Dr Anna Harvey
“When I first had a patient asking me about medicinal cannabis, I couldn’t help but feel skeptical about it and wished she would come up with another natural solution to her problems. I was quite ignorant about it.” Dr Harvey says. This is in contrast to her current work at the Cannabis Clinic, where she is one of New Zealand’s most experienced cannabis doctors.
“My views have definitely changed. I now think that medicinal cannabis, especially CBD oil, is safer than most pharmaceutical drugs available, including paracetamol, ibuprofen and anti-anxiety medications.” – Dr Harvey
Dr Harvey was born in Mt Albert, Auckland and completed her training at the University of Auckland medical school in 1989. Since that time, she has worked most of her working career in general practice, both in Auckland and Wellington. In 2019, her career would take a turn that few doctors could plan in advance, she decided to work at the Cannabis Clinic prescribing medicinal cannabis.
Having seen over 700 patients at the clinic since early 2019, from young children to adults, she is humble when referred to as a medicinal cannabis specialist. “I feel I am still learning so much about this amazing plant.” says Dr Harvey.
“I will be voting ‘yes’ in the referendum because the whole plant has so much to offer for it’s health promoting effects” says Dr Harvey. Her position is a unique one, as the New Zealand Medical Association has been a firm player in opposition to the referendum. But Dr Harvey comes from an angle that few see. In New Zealand, only three medicinal cannabis clinics exist and all operate privately only, meaning that they receive no government funding. She is therefore one of the very few doctors who have had the same exposure to cannabis medically.
Dr Harvey was also very critical of the cost of cannabis products, with most being around $7-10 per day. “The people who need it the most are also those who cannot afford it and it should made available not just to big pharma” says Dr Harvey in relation to the 2020 referendum.
The Cannabis Clinic is New Zealand’s largest private medicinal cannabis providers, employing GPs, specialists and trainee doctors. “The Cannabis Clinic has broken new ground in terms of bringing medicinal cannabis to people but there remains a lot of unmet need and demand which I am passionate about addressing” says Dr Harvey.
We caught up with Dr Harvey to ask her some important questions about her journey and what she has learnt:
Q. Why did you chose to work in the medicinal cannabis field?
It wasn’t really planned. I had a few quiet days at my clinic and felt ready to experience something new. I was also frustrated at how for some patients, I could offer no more and we had reached the end of what pharmaceutical drugs could do. So I looked and came across the Cannabis Clinic and that sparked some interest. It all happened from there.
I knew that there was a role for medicinal cannabis in pain relief but I had never had a chance to explore that further and remained cautious.
Q. How have your views about medicinal cannabis changed since working in the Cannabis Clinic?
It has changed quite a bit and it still is – I feel that I am continually learning. Initially I was skeptical and ignorant about medicinal cannabis, although never really opposed to it.
After prescribing and seeing the effects it has had on patients, I am totally supportive of its use. I think it is safer than a lot of pharmaceutical drugs available and I am happy to offer it to my patients when I think the benefit could be better than standard pharmaceutical drugs.
Q. Do you use cannabis?
Yes I do, on prescription. I actually suffered from migraines for the last 10 years. These headaches were very debilitating. I could only work 3 days a week as any more could trigger it. It would happen once a week or so and take me the entire day to recover.
“Since using CBD oil, I have actually never had another single migraine! I was able to increase my working days to 5-6 per week and it has kept it away” – Dr Harvey
Q. What has been your most memorable patient story?
There have been many successful stories but the most striking one was of a 17 year old boy with cerebral palsy, recurrent seizures and severe coordination issues. Since we started him on CBD oil, his seizures have reduced. He has gone up several levels at school and it even improved his ability to coordinate his body. It was very inspiring.
Q. What has surprised you most about medicinal cannabis?
Mostly how well it works for pain and anxiety, especially CBD oil with anxiety. That really surprised me.
“CBD oil is now my first choice for anxiety, not my last” – Dr Harvey
It seems to help a lot of conditions associated with the “stress response”. This response is associated with multiple medical conditions, including anxiety, muscle tension and fibromyalgia. CBD oil seems to be very effective in helping.
The other surprising thing was just how many people use cannabis to feel normal! This can be associated with ADHD and related conditions.
Q. What are the current problems with medicinal cannabis in NZ?
The main issue is the cost. So many patients are unable to afford it. Many are resorting to accessing it through illegal means. This means that a lot of Kiwis are missing out.
Q. What worries you about working with the Cannabis Clinic and medicinal cannabis?
I am very happy to be working with medicinal cannabis.
Working within the Cannabis Clinic team has definitely given me greater backing in what I do as we are all a team and support each other.
“Cannabis has so much to offer, I am now happy to prescribe it over pharmaceutical drugs to help my patients” – Dr Harvey
Click here to find out if medicinal cannabis is an option for you or to consult with Dr Harvey.