Cancer and cannabis use

A few medicinal cannabis products can be prescribed by your doctor. This is the safest way for people with cancer to use it. 

If you have a life-limiting condition, it is legal to use non-medical cannabis or marijuana. You will need a medical certificate stating you require palliation from a GP or Nurse Practitioner. As a palliative patient, you have an exemption from being charged for obtaining, possessing, and using cannabis, even though cannabis use and supply is still illegal. People requiring palliation have a legal defence if they are caught with cannabis. You cannot import cannabis.

(For the purposes of this exemption, people requiring palliation are those ‘who have an advanced progressive life-limiting condition and are nearing the end of their life’).

Information for people with cancer about using cannabis

Some people with cancer have found that cannabis helps them in managing treatment symptoms. These symptoms include nausea, appetite loss, and pain. However, there is no evidence that it can ‘cure’ or ‘treat’ cancer. Evidence on which to base an assessment of the use and safety of medicinal cannabis products is limited.

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About medicinal cannabis products

You need a prescription from a doctor registered to practice medicine in New Zealand before you can obtain any medicinal cannabis products.

A medicinal cannabis product is a dried cannabis product or a product in a pharmaceutical dosage form (eg, tablets or capsules) containing one or more cannabis-based ingredient(s) and no other prescription medicines or controlled drugs.

Cannabidiol (CBD) products are a type of medicinal cannabis product that has potential therapeutic value and contains little-to-no psychoactive substances. These products are typically available as capsules or oral liquid.

Other medicinal cannabis products may contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or other psychoactive substances found in cannabis. These products may be available as tablets or capsules, or as dried flower intended for vaporisation.


Seeking advice

Your doctor is the best person to advise you whether a medicinal cannabis product is a suitable treatment for you. For general information about the safety of medicines, see the Medsafe website.


Getting a prescription

Your doctor will have knowledge of your medical history, including any other medicines you are taking, and is best placed to advise you on the risks and benefits of using medicinal cannabis products.

You need a prescription from a doctor before you can obtain any medicinal cannabis product. Once you have a prescription, the doctor or a pharmacy will dispense the product to you. You cannot purchase medicinal cannabis products online or from a third party.


Product availability

CBD products may be prescribed by any doctor registered to practice in New Zealand.

Other medicinal cannabis products can be prescribed by a doctor when:

  • the product is an approved medicine, which means it has been assessed for safety and efficacy and been consented for distribution under the Medicines Act 1981, or
  • the Medicinal Cannabis Agency has verified the product meets the medicinal cannabis minimum quality standard, or
  • approval for a named patient has been granted by the Minister of Health following a recommendation from a relevant medical specialist or the Chief Medical Officer of a District Health Board.

Currently, SativexTM is the only medicinal cannabis product that is an approved medicine. This means that doctors can prescribe SativexTM without Ministerial approval.

A range of further medicinal cannabis products will become available over time as suppliers of medicinal cannabis products apply to the Medicinal Cannabis Agency to assess whether their products meet the medicinal cannabis minimum quality standard. Applications for product assessments opened on 1 April 2020.

For further information on the NZ medicinal cannabis scheme, visit the Ministry of Health website here.

*Please note that the medicinal cannabis scheme is entirely separate from the referendum on recreational cannabis*. The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Regulations 2019 were passed on 16 December 2019 and can be viewed at this Link.