A massive weight has been lifted off Adam Belcher's shoulders.

The Tauranga resident is the first New Zealander with Tourette syndrome approved to use the medicinal cannabis spray Sativex.

He no longer faces relapsing to the same degree because he couldn't afford the $1100 prescription every six or seven weeks.

His lifesaver was the Bay of Plenty District Health Board which stepped in to pay the prescription after the treatment was approved by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman.


The breakthrough treatment was so successful that the man who the Tourette's Association dubbed the worst case it had ever seen, was enjoying a huge lift in the quality of his life.

"I'm happy to be the guinea pig ... no more is every day a battle and everything a challenge," Mr Belcher told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend last year.

A trial that included a video of his behaviour before and after Sativex was so compelling that Tauranga Hospital psychiatrist Dr Rupert Bird intended to submit the findings to a medical journal.

"All my friends and family can't get over the difference. It's a miracle drug for me," Mr Belcher said.

The board's Mental Health and Addictions Service clinical director, Dr Sue Mackersey, said this week that Mr Belcher's Sativex was being funded by the service for the purpose of a clinical case study.

Mr Belcher said he was enormously grateful for the funding because the reality was he could not have found all that money to fund his treatment.

"I would have had to have gone without, and that would have been devastating. It is a blessing, it's a massive weight off my shoulders."

Apart from a brief and unsuccessful trial using the alternative non-pharmaceutical grade product, Aceso Calm spray, he has been on Sativex for just over a year. Aceso had a low THC content - the active ingredient in cannabis.

"When Sativex was taken away, everything came back. I was off Sativex for two weeks and it was two weeks of crap," Mr Belcher said.

Sativex has had such an amazing effect on his life that he would like the Government to trial it on other Tourette's sufferers.

He believed life's difficulties from living with Tourette syndrome had been reduced by two-thirds. Going out in public was no longer marred by his involuntary swearing and stomping.

But the last-resort treatment had, until the board intervened, come at a high personal cost. The spray was unfunded by the Government's drug-buying agency Pharmac.

Now he no longer had to agonise about where the money for the next prescription would come from.

The irony was that anxiety threatened to undermine a life now largely free of the debilitating vocal and muscular tics.

"Tourette syndrome is something that is kind of a signature of stress. If I am having a stressful day it will show."

Mr Belcher, 30, said his life was on the mend and he would be looking for part-time work this year.

The wanted to find an employer that shared the confidence he felt in knowing he could do something.

Tourette's Association executive director Robyn Twemlow said Mr Belcher's tics had been so extreme that he had destroyed almost every wall in his parents' house and put holes through the floor.

Sativex medicinal cannabis spray
• The only cannabis preparation registered for medicinal use in New Zealand
• Registered for moderate to severe spasticity due to multiple sclerosis
• Each ml contains 38-44mg of cannabis leaf and 35-42mg of cannabis flower