Cheaper medicinal cannabis product approved

The only legal medicinal cannabis product available in New Zealand until now has been Sativex, a mouth spray that has been prohibitively expensive for many people.

Another product that is less than half the price, Tilray, has just been approved by Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne after Dr Huhana Hickey applied to use it.

NZ Herald: Medicinal cannabis costs set to tumble after cheaper product gets green light

It is estimated the marijuana-based tincture called Tilray will cost at least 50 per cent less than the existing legal product Sativex, a UK mouth spray made by GW Pharma.

Multiple sclerosis sufferer, Dr Huhana Hickey, who applied to use Tilray, said: “I’m so relieved. It’s going to save me $700 a month.”

The AUT academic says she has spent $9000 on prescriptions since she started taking medicinal cannabis in February. Hickey says the results have been remarkable.

“I’m living my life again. I’m back to work, I am fully-functioning”

She started using the spray to replace pain killers such as morphine, codeine, tramadol and other opiates which she had been prescribed for years.

“At the start I was sceptical I didn’t think it was going to work that well, but I can’t believe it. I haven’t had opiates for seven months. It really works and I have no side effects.”

Hickey says she doesn’t get high, just a little dozy at nights.
“And I sleep, which is great because I’ve been an insomniac for 40 years.”

Medicinal cannabis is being used to treat diverse conditions such as chronic pain, terminal cancer, Tourette’s and child epilepsy. Patients say it reduces the severity of their symptoms.

Sativex, which is not funded by the drug buying agency Pharmac, has been available in New Zealand since 2008. Medical marijuana campaigners say fewer than 40 patients use it, largely because of the price. A prescription through a district health board costs patients around $1200 a month, or $1500 if it is ordered with a chemist.

Hickey’s success follows the rejection of a similar application by trade unionist Helen Kelly. She wanted to use a cannabis product to alleviate symptoms of terminal lung cancer. Kelly, 52, died on Friday.

Kelly’s application was rejected and she didn’t try again, instead choosing to illegally use medicinal cannabis, openly flaunting the law.

The campaigning charity Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ supported Hickey’s application for the new concentrate.

Spokesman Shane Le Brun said: “There are many people suffering while waiting for legal access, who balk at the price of Sativex. We hope that Tilray products will be recognised over time as a ‘close enough’ equivalent to Sativex to spare patients the exorbitant cost.”

Le Brun says the other reason for the lack of uptake of Sativex the difficulty in finding an anaesthetist who will agree to prescribing medicinal cannabis. He hopes this decision will change things.

“Once we have a few more approvals through then specialists will have less room to squirm and avoid the issue.”

Le Brun hopes that eventually new cannabis medicines will not require ministerial sign off.

Dunne would not comment but his office indicated that in the future approval for recognised products such as Tilray was likely to become routine.

“Hopefully this will open door for others in need,” says Hickey.

It’s a toe in the door. Now Hickey’s application has succeeded expect more people to apply to use Tilray.