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Visiting cannabis expert warns against specialist sign-off

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

"The prospect of a specialist recommendation being required before a GP can prescribe medicinal cannabis would be a huge error for New Zealand," says British neurologist and Europe’s pre-eminent medicinal cannabis expert, Professor Mike Barnes.

His warning comes as he prepares to visit New Zealand this week. As the Director of Education for The Academy of Medical Cannabis based in London, he will lead three ‘Masterclass in Medical Cannabis’ events for doctors and healthcare professionals in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

The events are sponsored at arms-length by the country’s largest medicinal cannabis, Helius Therapeutics and mark the first RNZCGP-endorsed professional training of its kind on medicinal cannabis.

Helius Therapeutics Executive Director, Paul Manning, says there has been strong interest, with over 250 attendees already confirmed.

"Helius is focused on delivering many of New Zealand’s first cannabis-based medicinal products. However, access will not improve unless doctors are well-informed about medicinal cannabis and how to prescribe the products. Thousands of patients will be relying on their GPs for advice about, and access to, medicinal cannabis," says Mr Manning.

However, both Mr Manning and Professor Barnes are concerned by the specialist sign-off requirement that’s recommended in the discussion document on New Zealand’s Medicinal Cannabis Scheme, released by the Ministry of Health recently for public feedback by 7 August.

"Specialist sign-off is simply not needed nor wanted. It hasn’t worked elsewhere, and it won’t work in New Zealand. I strongly believe GPs should be allowed to prescribe without specialist approval, just as they do with other medicines," says Professor Barnes.

"GPs are very well placed to consider the ‘whole’ patient and treat the variety of symptoms that many people have who would benefit from medicinal cannabis. After all, GPs are specialists themselves in primary care medicine and symptom management."

He believes New Zealand patients will continue to face substantial barriers to accessing medicinal cannabis if the extra layer of medical sign-off is required to obtain a prescription.

His view is supported by the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (RNZCGP), which have publicly stated such a move would be excessive and unnecessary.

"Your Government and Health Minister are clearly driven by improved patient access to medicinal cannabis, so I strongly caution them against including such a proposal in the final regulations. It would seriously impede patient access to medicinal cannabis.

"I suspect most New Zealanders will be equally keen for GPs to be granted professional discretion when it comes to medicinal cannabis, rather than forcing patients to also seek a recommendation from a specialist," he says.

Professor Barnes says requiring specialist sign-off would only add time, cost money, and further frustrate many suffering patients, and their families, who have already waited years for legal access.

Free of charge to healthcare professionals, the masterclasses will take place in Auckland on Wednesday 24 July; Wellington on Thursday 25 July; and Christchurch on Friday 26 July. The Auckland class has now sold out, but doctors interested in the Wellington and Christchurch events can book through the Helius website at

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