The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act formally came into effect on the 18th December 2018, which means that medicinal cannabis, or medical marijuana, will soon be more readily available to New Zealanders. In this article, we look at what is meant by medicinal cannabis, how it differs from recreational cannabis, and what the new legislation means for medicinal cannabis use in New Zealand.
Cannabis produces more than one hundred known unique naturally-occurring compounds called cannabinoids. It is these cannabinoids that give the cannabis plant its medicinal properties.
Cannabinoids interact with a large system in the body called the endocannabinoid system, which is often described as a major system of receptors that maintains vital functions throughout the body.
Each cannabinoid has a different effect on the human body, however, the two main cannabinoids that have been studied and found to have medicinal benefits are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). There have been claims that a number of other cannabinoids have therapeutic properties, but these have not yet been proven.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is responsible for the psychoactive effect or ‘high’ that is associated with cannabis use. The psychoactive effects of THC, such as euphoria and feeling relaxed or sleepy, are well known, but THC has also been found to have analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties, as well as being able to prevent and reduce vomiting.
Cannabidiol (CBD) has anticonvulsant properties and there is good evidence that it can treat severe forms of childhood epilepsy. It does not have a psychoactive effect. CBD is thought to modulate the effects of THC which is why the ratio of THC to CBD can be important. Some of the most common chronic conditions patients combat with CBD include epilepsy, schizophrenia, and other psychotic disorders, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, some tumours, pain and inflammation, anxiety, PTSD, Crohn’s disease, and opioid withdrawal.
Cannabis is currently classified as an illegal drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. However, when the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act formally came into effect on the 18th December 2018, medicinal cannabis became legal, defined, and separately legislated for in New Zealand. There are three big changes arising from the new law, as follows:
The law now allows for the establishment of a new medicinal cannabis industry in New Zealand with medical cannabis products to be manufactured here for both domestic and overseas markets. What this means is that patients will have much broader access to medical cannabis, including CBD products, which were previously highly restricted. But these things take time and most patients will have to wait at least a year until the required set of regulations, licensing rules, and quality standards are put in place. In the meantime, patients using cannabis for palliative care, whilst still not legal, have a legal defense in place.
As a separate note, these medicinal marijuana measures come ahead of a planned national referendum on recreational marijuana use. The New Zealand government has pledged to hold the referendum sometime over the next two years, but has not yet set a date, or finalised the wording.