Dunne approves one-off cannabis medicine

Peter Dunne (Simon Wong)
Peter Dunne (Simon Wong)

The Government is stressing the one-off approval of another medicinal cannabis product does not signal a future of greater availability.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne gave the green light yesterday for a patient with Tourette's Syndrome to use Aceso Calm Spray, chosen for its low THC content compared to other cannabis-based medicines.

It follows last year's one-off approval for a Wellington teenager suffering prolonged and repeated seizures to use Elixinol.

Mr Dunne says yesterday's decision shows the current system works, as long as medical specialists meet the application criteria.

"These are considered on a case-by-case basis. The driving point is always the patient's medical advisors and the application that they make. They are then assessed, and I then get a recommendation to act upon."

It's the second time Mr Dunne has approved the use of a cannabis-based medicine from three applications. The second application came from former union boss Helen Kelly, who is fighting terminal cancer.

She accused Mr Dunne yesterday of turning down her application "on its merits". He denied this, saying the "application was withdrawn by your oncologist. It never came across my desk."

Ms Kelly said her application was "withdrawn because [the Ministry of Health was] asking impossible questions. You r in charge mate. Ask 2 see it & make it work [sic]."

Mr Dunne declined to comment on Ms Kelly's case.

"I'm not going to get into a debate about her case, but my information about the reasons for its withdrawal are quite different from hers."

In contrast, he says the latest application "came to me [in the] morning and was approved by lunchtime".

"The application was comprehensive, innovative and considered. The director of mental health and the acting director of public health recommended its approval," says Mr Dunne.

The only cannabis-based medicine doctors can currently prescribe without Mr Dunne's approval is Sativex, which he says has "just over 30 current prescriptions".

"Despite the clamour, actual demand is very low."

Mr Dunne says he would "love" to have clinical trials on more cannabis-based products so patients and doctors have a wider range of options to choose from, without needing to apply to the Ministry of Health.

"The situation for medicinal marijuana products is no different for any other new medicine. In other words, they have to be trialled and registered.

"We would love there to be clinical trials in New Zealand -- no manufacturers are showing any interest in doing so. Until that happens, we can't register products because we can't go through the same process as we do for every other new medicine."

He is looking forward to the results of trials in Australia later this year, but says even if they are successful, it could be a year or two before Kiwis get to try out any new products that result.