Just one Whanganui person has applied to use medicinal cannabis over the past three years, with users saying the high cost is a barrier to accessing the drug.

Information provided by the Ministry of Health shows it authorised the Whanganui application for Sativex.

Northland woman Alisha Butt has been using Sativex since September to control severe epilepsy and recently became the first person in the country to receive publicly funded medical cannabis.

Her parents, Sushila and Royd Butt, believed a lack of funding for the drug was preventing people in the community applying to use it. Mrs Butt said it cost more than $1000 for a month's supply.


Northland District Health Board is funding the medication for Alisha for as long as it is needed and remains effective.

Mrs Butt said the couple wanted the drug funded for everyone who needed it and had organised a petition urging the Government to do so.

A Carterton family turned to the public to help fund the drug after teen Grace Yeats became the first New Zealander to be diagnosed with an incurable variant of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which causes inflammation in the brain and spinal cord.

Her mother Tracy Yeats said Sativex had been life-changing for Grace.

She was in a great deal of pain and having a lot of dystonic spasms before she started using it. Now she was calmer, using her hands more and overcoming her spasms. Late in February she started talking again.

Mrs Yeats said the drug wasn't something she could afford without public help.

One Dollar Warriors - a group which raises funds to fight life-threatening illnesses - set up a Givealittle fund for the Yeats family and collected enough to pay for Grace's Sativex for two years.

Rotorua girl Zoe Jeffries has uncontrolled epilepsy, spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, microcephaly and cerebral visual impairment.

The Ministry of Health last year approved an application for Zoe to use Sativex.

Mother Karen Jeffries said the cost of the product was a huge burden but a Givealittle campaign to fund it had been amazing.

Nationwide, the Ministry of Health has 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.