Published:  10 December 2015

Access to Medicinal Cannabis

Prescriber Update 36(4): 50
December 2015

There are numerous claims about the efficacy of medicinal cannabis products for a wide range of conditions and growing support internationally to allow access to medicinal cannabis on compassionate grounds. While evidence for the efficacy of cannabis in some conditions shows promise, further high quality research is needed to evaluate whether the claims can be justified.

In New Zealand cannabis is regulated under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1977. Cannabis preparations are Class B1 controlled drugs and cannabis seed and plant are Class C1 controlled drugs.

Both classes of cannabis products need ministerial approval (usually delegated to the Ministry of Health) prior to importing, prescribing, or administering.

To date Sativex is the only cannabinoid medicine with consent for distribution in New Zealand. Sativex is indicated as add-on treatment, for symptom improvement in patients with moderate to severe spasticity due to multiple sclerosis who have not responded adequately to other anti-spasticity medication and who demonstrate clinically significant improvement in spasticity related symptoms during an initial trial of therapy.

Ministerial approval is required before prescribing any medicinal cannabis products including Sativex and is considered on a case-by-case basis. The Minister of Health's delegate has previously allowed access to Sativex for off-label use.

Information on accessing medicinal cannabis products and the application process, including application forms, can be found on the Ministry of Health website ( Please be aware the application forms differ depending on the type of cannabis product.