A report on medical cannabis published yesterday by the Health Select Committee is a disappointing once-over glance at a medicine that is of increasing importance globally, the New Zealand Drug Foundation said.
The Health Select Committee Report was in response to the petition of William Joseph Rea and recommends that there be no change in the current approach to medical cannabis.
"This report offers little relief to the many people who would benefit from a robust medical cannabis regime in New Zealand," New Zealand Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell said.
"Advice from the Ministry of Health to the Select Committee failed to canvas the latest knowledge and cited a widely debunked paper about the negative health risks of cannabis.
"The report also failed to recognise that any health risks from smoking raw cannabis can be mitigated through edible or vaporised alternatives."
Mr Bell said that there is growing evidence to support the use of cannabis for a range of medical conditions.
"The drug has proven beneficial effects for relieving chronic pain, reducing nausea, improving appetite, improving the quality of life of people undergoing chemotherapy, and relieving muscle spasms.
"Cannabis is of particular interest for people with Dravet Syndrome, a genetic condition that begins at infancy and causes multiple severe seizures.
"There is the potential to grant many people a lot of relief if we were to adopt a robust and well regulated medical cannabis regime.
Mr Bell said that technically cannabis is already a legal medicine.
"Medical cannabis is, on paper, a legal medicine and we also allow the use of Sativex, a pharmaceutical cannabis product.
"However, no one has approval to use raw cannabis, and only 10 people have approval to use Sativex. The application process is a never-ending labyrinth of confusing paperwork, and Pharmac does not subsidise the pharmaceutical."
Mr Bell said there are many countries that allow the medical use of cannabis.
"Canada and the Netherlands provide robust models for how we could regulate medical cannabis and make it easier for people to access medication," Mr Bell said.
"These models address the issues raised in the select committee report about quality, testing, and dosage. Bedrocan, a type of medical cannabis, shows that these concerns are easily mitigated."
Mr Bell said that the New Zealand Drug Foundation was currently drafting an application to Pharmac to subsidise Sativex.
"People with existing approval to use Sativex should be able to access the medicine with a subsidy from Pharmac and the future process for applying to use Sativex should be simplified.
"The Drug Foundation repeats its call for a compassionate approach to those using raw cannabis for medicinal reasons until a robust system can be put in place."
The Health Select Committee report on Petition 2011/41 of William Joseph Rea can be accessed at http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/pb/sc/documents/reports/50DBSCH_SCR6200_1/petition-201141-of-william-joseph-rea
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