"I don't get high, it just enables me to live my life and live it well."

These are the words of medicinal cannabis advocate Nichola Smith who was born with a rare Ehlers-Danlos syndrome that affects her joints, skin, internal organs and spine. Despite her ailments, Smith has good news.

"My doctor's visits are way down. I've saved the Government probably heaps of money."

Smith says medicinal cannabis has changed her life.


"People are stunned when they see the difference in me. The people in my life that were anti cannabis have completely changed their minds because they've seen my transformation.

"I'm back volunteering. I'm one of two medical liaisons who advocate for people to get access to legal medical cannabis."

Medicinal cannabis came a step closer to being fully legal yesterday with proposals for regulations being released by the Minister of Health, David Clark.

"We are looking for views on how these products are prescribed," Clark said. "The quality standards for medicinal cannabis products, licensing for cultivators and manufacturers, barriers to patients accessing these medicines and several other proposals."

The Ministry of Health is seeking recommendations from the public for a new Medicinal Cannabis Scheme starting in 2020.

"I think it's one of those things when society becomes saturated with some things, slowly our views and viewpoints change," Smith said.

"Like in the 50's - homosexuality was the baddest thing ever but now because we've become basically saturated with this, I think we change."

Courtney Letica, founder of Medleaf. Photo / Myles Thomas
Courtney Letica, founder of Medleaf. Photo / Myles Thomas

One of the companies importing medicinal cannabis is Medleaf, founded by Courtney Letica who was inspired after seeing two family members battle debilitating illnesses.


"Grandad's been on a very high dose of what is called methotrexate, which is used for rheumatoid arthritis. It's an auto-immune suppressant, it's a chemo drug which is not brilliant," Letica said.

"He tried this oil, it got him to the point where he was able to completely stop all pharmaceutical medications. He was more active than we have seen him before, he was jumping, dancing, working on building sites with us, up and down the ladder at the age of 86."

Letica's 86 year old Grandad, Eric. Photo / supplied
Letica's 86 year old Grandad, Eric. Photo / supplied

But the Leticas weren't happy using the "green fairies" and wanted a legal marijuana supply.

That required a prescription from a medical specialist willing to go out on a limb - a marijuana limb that is relatively under-researched and heavily stigmatised after decades of "reefer madness".

There are two well-known cannabinoids found in marijuana - CBD which is claimed to have anti-inflammatory properties and can be prescribed by a GP, and THC which is said to offer pain relief and also is the one that makes smokers "high".

Because of that high, marijuana is easily found in most social circles across New Zealand.

But finding a specialist to prescribe the legal version took the Leticas two years.

"We were able to get him THC mixed with CBD," Letica said.

"The benefit of that is if you carry CBD as an anti-psychotic in the same or similar ratio to THC, it will counteract the psychotropic or high effect you'd normally be used to, so you can actually then take THC with the same amount of CBD and be healthy and not high."

In the course of those two years, Letica read a lot of research revealing the extraordinary way cannabis interacts with our bodies.

"Cannabis is a product that basically humans produce within themselves through the endocannabanoid system. We produce our own cannabinoids," he said.

"The cannabis plant is a plant that just so happens to react with the largest receptor system known in the human body which is our endocannibanoid system.

"The receptors act as a lock and the CBD as a key and they go in and they basically stimulate this endocannabanoid system to help with things such as pain, inflammation, nausea...

"They trigger our own receptor system to react and react harder and also release our own endocannabinoids itself."

Medleaf imports CBD lozenges and dropper products that are already available through GPs and it hopes to launch THC and combined products in New Zealand later this year once changes to the law have been passed.

It's a legal step that is highly anticipated by many pain sufferers across New Zealand including Smith in New Plymouth.

"I think Chloe [Swarbrick] is doing a fantastic job at portraying each side of it," Smith said.

"She's said she doesn't like drugs herself but it's not a drug issue it's a health issue.

"And this is what it is, it's a health issue."

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