Cancer patient denied medicinal cannabis because doctor 'couldn't be bothered'

A west Auckland man dying of cancer says his doctor flat-out refused to prescribe him medical cannabis because it was too much paperwork. 

A Medical Cannabis Awareness charity says doctors are a bigger obstacle for terminal patients trying to access it than the law.

Greg Moses has terminal pancreatic and liver cancer. He's been given six months to live.

"I'm not afraid to die, but I don't want to die. That's the be-all of it. It is what it is," he says.

He tries to stay positive and to manage his pain. For this he asked his oncologist for a cannabis-based product. He couldn't believe the reply.  

According to Mr Moses the doctor said: "I haven't got time. I haven't got time to look at it. Nah, I'm not interested."

"It's like the door has been closed on my existence," Mr Moses says.

But Mr Moses was so tired of taking pain medicine with major side effects. He says he then resorted to pleading for medical cannabis.

"The doctor then said to me, 'Well no, it can't do any harm,' and I said, 'Well if it can't do any harm what's the problem with giving it to me or letting me use it?'

"All he said was, 'I'm just not interested.'"

GP Dr Graham Gulbransen says Mr Moses isn't alone; the paperwork is onerous - six pages of documents - and specialist approval is needed.

"Doctors don't know about it; they don't know to prescribe it; they don't know the cost, how to get the prescription to the chemist, how the chemist gets it in, and it's way more complicated than it needs to be," he says.

A recent rule change means doctors no longer need Ministry of Health approval to prescribe medical cannabis to patients like Mr Moses. But the latest figures from before the rule change show not many doctors were trying to access it.

Last year, the Ministry of Health only received 95 applications to prescribe it for a patient. Only three were denied.

"The biggest barrier to legal access is the pain specialists themselves. The Ministry would approve them," Medicinal Cannabis Awareness NZ's Shane Le Brun says.

"It's up to the pain specialists to make the application."

So why aren't doctors prescribing more? Newshub asked 10 doctors, five GPs and five specialists. They say the key reason is they just don't have the evidence it works.

The profession relies on randomised controlled trials to prove effectiveness, and they don't exist yet for medical cannabis.  

But Mr Moses still wants to give it a go.

"I've got nothing to lose," he says.

His chemotherapy will be stopped soon, and he hopes official complaints he's made about his doctor will give him the access to medical cannabis he so desperately wants.