A ROTORUA man who relies on medicinal cannabis to live a normal life says he's being made to feel like a criminal - and the drug should be more accessible for those who need it.
He is not alone - a Rotorua GP says he knows of others in the city illegally using cannabis for legitimate medicinal reasons and if he could, he would prescribe it to those it could help.
The guidelines for approving medicinal cannabis products are currently being reviewed by the Ministry of Health.
At present, patients can apply to the ministry to get access to one form of medical cannabis, Sativex, which has been cleared for use in New Zealand. Applications for non-pharmaceutical-grade cannabis face a stricter set of criteria and approval is only granted to severely ill patients.
The local man, who spoke to the Rotorua Daily Post on the condition his identity was kept secret, has been smoking cannabis for pain relief for the past eight years after suffering severe injuries that left him with ongoing pain.
"The doctors have prescribed me tramadol and different forms of morphine for pain relief, but it leaves me laying on the couch like a mung bean all day and that's not living life."
The man said he looked into cannabis for pain relief and since he had started it he had been able to live normally again.
"If you imagine the worst toothache you could have, to be able to find relief for that is just bliss and that's what marijuana does for my pain.
"The pain is there every day and marijuana helps me to not think about it. I take it on a daily basis to do things like mow the lawn. It gives me the opportunity to actively live my life."
He said he also did not like the risk of addiction that came with prescription drugs and with the amount he was already spending on medical bills he couldn't afford to apply for medical cannabis.
"If it was a realistic affordable opportunity then I would definitely apply, it should be more accessible for people who need it."
He said he didn't like being forced to go to "dodgy" places to buy the drug because it made him feel like a criminal and that was far from who he was.
The Ministry of Health has received and authorised just one application to use medicinal cannabis in Rotorua over the past three years - with Zoe Jeffries approved to use Sativex (see sidebar).
Ranolf Medical Centre GP Dr Harry Pert said he was impressed by experts in Portugal who were treating cannabis use as a health issue rather than a criminal issue.
"I think we should be moving in that direction, the evidence is quite compelling. It has shown that it can help patients who suffer nausea during cancer treatments and that it helps some types of epilepsy."
He said he was in favour of any medicine where there was any evidence that it could benefit the patient.
Dr Pert said he knew of local patients who were illegally using the drug for legitimate medicinal purposes and if it was an option he would prescribe it to those he thought were in need.
As of yesterday, the Ministry of Health had received 76 applications for pharmaceutical-grade cannabis products with consent for distribution in New Zealand over the past three years.
Sativex is approved for treating symptoms of multiple sclerosis in New Zealand, any other use of Sativex is an "unapproved" use, according to Medsafe.
The ministry approved 73 of the applications, including 16 applications for renewal of previously granted approvals.
It received three applications for non-pharmaceutical grade products and authorised two.
One was for an application to use Aceso Calm spray to treat a severe case of Tourette's Syndrome approved this week.
According to the ministry, medicinal cannabis includes several types of products containing extracts of the plant that may be used to treat medical conditions.
Ministerial approval was required before they could be prescribed, supplied or administered.
Three types of medicinal cannabis products could be considered for approval.
They included pharmaceutical grade products that had consent for distribution in New Zealand, pharmaceutical grade products that did not have consent for distribution in New Zealand and non-pharmaceutical grade products.
- Additional reporting Kim Fulton