Doctors 'lack knowledge' of medicinal cannabis

An increasing number of Kiwis are getting access to medicinal cannabis, but there are concerns GPs don't know enough about it.

Fifth year Christchurch medical student Victoria Catherwood says there's not enough knowledge about it among medical professionals, so she is crowd-funding to make a documentary as an educational resource.

"There is a huge lack of knowledge about medicinal cannabis among the medical community.  It's not taught and it's sort of taboo to talk about it," says Ms Catherwood.

Dr Huhana Hickey has multiple sclerosis and suffered from pain and spasms for years. She agrees doctors need more information.

"It's like every day is a day of pain, and so you can't live like that."

That is, until she started taking medicinal marijuana last year.  Although it costs her thousands of dollars, she doesn't want to go back.

"I can't do without it, I will panic."

She's one of around 170 New Zealanders to have ministry approval to use medicinal cannabis, which has been proven to help relieve chronic pain, muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis, and nausea from chemotherapy.

But around 175,000 Kiwis report using cannabis for medicinal purposes - so most of them aren't getting it through their GP, they're smoking it.

Dr Hickey agrees knowledge is patchy.

"I asked my neurologist, she looked at me blankly... [I] went to my GP she knew nothing, she was too scared to look at it."

Chair of the NZ Medical Association, Stephen Child, denies any taboo and says the knowledge of medical cannabis is as good as any other area of medicine. 

But he says there's a distinct difference between proven pharmaceuticals and an illegal drug.

"[If] we're talking about the use of an illicit substance of the entire plant, in which there are more than 150 different products that we don't understand the benefits and risks, then that's not really a medical prescription of a medication then education about that is a little bit different."

Dr Child says education is paramount and he'd welcome any educational resource as long as it was factual and evidence-based.

Ms Catherwood hopes to get her documentary funded so more doctors can help patients like Dr Hickey.

"Witnessing patients and doctors having a conversation about it and the doctors not really being able to talk about it, and discouraging it -  It's not taught and it's sort of taboo to talk about it."