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Groundswell of demand for medicinal cannabis, reveals poll

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Over 400,000 New Zealanders say they would definitely seek out medicinal cannabis products when they become widely available from 2020, according to a large independent survey and the first of its kind, just released.

Gearing up to meet such significant demand, the country’s largest licensed medicinal cannabis company, Helius Therapeutics, has also announced the first national, accredited training programme on medicinal cannabis for New Zealand doctors, to take place in July and led by a global expert.

The move follows Helius commissioning Horizon Research to survey over 1,100 adult New Zealanders on whether they plan on accessing medicinal cannabis products once they become more widely and legally available next year.

The results provide the first real insight into the potential market size of medicinal cannabis in New Zealand.

On whether they would try seeking out products, a staggering 14% of respondents answered ‘definitely’ equating to 431,900 New Zealanders. Overall, 34% answered ‘definitely’, ‘most likely’, or ‘somewhat likely’ equating to 1,058,900 Kiwis.

"Even if we just focus on those who would ‘definitely’ try accessing medicinal cannabis products, at 14% that represents phenomenal demand, set to be unleashed next year," says Paul Manning, Executive Director of Helius Therapeutics.

Mr Manning says the survey results reaffirm New Zealanders’ strong desire for medicinal cannabis to be made widely accessible for the hundreds of thousands of patients who stand to benefit from its therapeutic potential. It also reinforces the importance of an effective Medicinal Cannabis Scheme that enables healthcare professionals to meet patients’ needs and expectations.

Medicinal cannabis won strong cross-party political support last year. New Zealand’s regulators are now tasked with developing the Scheme by mid-December, which will deliver the required regulations and framework for access.

"This survey is a serious wake-up call. It’s not just the sheer size of the potential market and groundswell of demand, but it’s a timely reminder that Kiwis are increasingly seeing cannabis as a mainstream heath product. New Zealand needs to be prepared for this demand shift.

"We know most New Zealand doctors would be willing to prescribe medicinal cannabis products for many conditions, particularly chronic pain. However, only a minority of doctors feel well enough informed. We know that healthcare professionals require more information before prescribing medicinal cannabis to patients, so we’ve got a lot of work to do," he says.

Mr Manning’s comments reflect a recent survey of New Zealand healthcare professionals on their views around medicinal cannabis. Commissioned also by Helius earlier this year, that survey showed growing requests for medicinal cannabis products from patients.

"So we’ve got hundreds of thousands of Kiwis keen to access medicinal cannabis while, at the same time, our medical professionals are hungry to learn more. Subsequently, providing educational opportunities for physicians and pharmacists is what Helius will focus on next."

First out of the blocks, Helius Therapeutics, in partnership with world-leading medical cannabis training organisation, The Academy of Medical Cannabis, is offering masterclasses in medicinal cannabis for prescribing physicians.

Sponsored by Helius, this will mark New Zealand’s first professional, CME-accredited training on medicinal cannabis for physicians on a national scale. The day-long events will be held in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch at the end of July, with Helius securing an internationally acclaimed figure to lead them.

Delivering the ‘Masterclass in Medicinal Cannabis for Physicians’ events will be Europe’s pre-eminent medical cannabis expert, British neurologist Professor Michael Barnes.

Professor Barnes is Director of Education for The Academy of Medical Cannabis, based in London. As well as publishing numerous books and papers, the British Government commissioned him in 2016 to assess the therapeutic benefits of medicinal cannabis. Now known as ‘The Barnes Report’, it changed the direction of legislation in the UK and acted as a catalyst to the eventual rescheduling of medical cannabis in November 2018.

"We’re expecting considerable interest around the visit of Professor Barnes in July. Europe’s experience in medicinal cannabis is relatable to what New Zealand is now going through, and so his insights and preeminent expertise will be in high demand."

Mr Manning says Helius is not only focused on delivering many of New Zealand’s first medicinal cannabis products, but also committed to investing in and creating educational opportunities for the country’s medical profession.

"We believe every New Zealander has a natural right to a pain-free existence. At the end of the day, well-informed doctors will be critical to ensuring thousands of patients here gain sound and sensible access to medicinal cannabis," he says.

Any doctors interested in attending one of the Professor Barnes-led masterclasses in medicinal cannabis can register their interest through Helius’ website. The masterclasses will take place in Auckland on Wednesday 24 July; Wellington on Thursday 25 July; and Christchurch on Friday 26 July.

Commissioned by Helius Therapeutics and carried out independently by Horizon Research, the results are from a nationwide survey of 1,156 adults representing the 18+ population at the 2013 census, conducted between 15 and 28 April 2019. Respondents are members of Horizon’s nationwide research panels. Results are weighted by age, gender, education level, personal income, employment status and party voted for at the 2017 general election to provide a presentative population sample. At a 95% confidence level, the maximum margin of error is +/- 2.9%.

‘Generally, do you think you will try accessing medicinal cannabis products once they become more widely and legally available next year?’

14% say definitely

10% say most likely

10% say somewhat likely

9% say somewhat not likely

23% say most unlikely

22% say definitely not

12% I’m really not sure

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