I was very happy to hear about the government’s updated scheme for medicinal cannabis, effective on the 1st April 2020.
While this will allow for greater access to medicinal cannabis prescriptions, there are two glaring problems with the legislation that New Zealanders will face in 2020: high costs, and a lack of expertise. Let me explain further.
1. High Costs
The new medicinal cannabis regulations set out two fundamental issues: quality standards for products, and licensing i.e. who is allowed to do what. This is good news! No longer will doctors be prescribing CBD oil from goodness knows where.
As of 1 April 2020, all medicinal cannabis must be made and tested in GMP certified facilities. The GMP certifications set a standard by which pharmaceutical companies operate and manufacture. It is a guideline to ensure the process is achieved to a pharmaceutical grade. Not just the production, but the GMP certification also covers the testing and analysis of products. This gives the prescriber and the patient confidence in the product they are using.
Whilst the new regulations do allow doctors and pharmacists to import products for their patients that don’t have to meet this strict criteria, in my opinion, GMP certification will make medicinal cannabis more inaccessible.
The biggest barrier to medicinal cannabis products is cost. And strict GMP and product requirements mean higher cost. This will take medicinal cannabis out of the reach of many, as is the case at present.
Don’t get me wrong. The extra cost is well worth it for the highest quality products. But there needs to be consideration for access for all. Since chronic pain is the main reason people use medicinal cannabis (in our experience), the question of government and ACC funding becomes critical.
“We need to ensure medicinal cannabis remains affordable for our patients. This is one of the most important factors we focus on in the clinic” – Dr Waseem
2. Lack of Expertise
Through consulting with many patients about medicinal cannabis, another key issue patients face is the lack of support from their GP or specialist. It is very common for us to hear of people shrugged off by their doctor or specialist when they bring up the issue of medicinal cannabis.
I have worked hard to try and support as many visitors as possible to educate them on talking to their GP, but we still get patients declined by their GP every day.
Lack of expertise is going to be the second biggest challenge to access to medicinal cannabis in 2020. While the government has invested time and money into the education of doctors, this is going to take a mental shift more than anything else. Doctors accepting that medicinal cannabis has a role to play in traditional medicine – that maybe, just maybe, it is not snake oil.
This skepticism is not surprising really. Throughout the medical community, there is a lack of trust between doctors and the “natural medicine” community. We view natural medicine as inferior to traditional medicine – as misleading people.
And don’t think it’s just patients that it happens to. It is also doctors. I still get awkward silence or even shock when I mention medicinal cannabis to colleagues. It is always the start of an entertaining discussion!
“I still get the awkward silence or even shock when I mention medicinal cannabis to colleagues. It is always the start of an entertaining discussion!” – Dr Waseem
We are thrilled that in 2020 we will be able to prescribe CBD and THC to our patients. This is a new era for health in New Zealand.
However, the question of cost for patients, as well as the education of the medical community, still remains unanswered.
Will you be able to afford $5-10 / day for medicinal cannabis?