Opinion: I have fibromyalgia. This is why I need cannabis to be legalised

OPINION: You may have heard the arguments for or against the upcoming cannabis referendum

But you may not know of people who desperately need the referendum to pass so they can gain quality of life. I am one of those people.

I have fibromyalgia, a chronic pain and fatigue disease. This life-long disease can be explained using Christine Miserandino's 'spoon theory'. In this theory, spoons equal energy. A normal person may wake up with 20 spoons, and each spoon is taken away when they do something that requires energy - such as walking the dog or going to work. A 'spoonie' like me, may wake up with 10 spoons, and two spoons are taken away by just getting out of bed. Therefore, spoonies have to choose when they use their spoons carefully, which may mean limiting their lifestyle.

For me personally, this has meant taking away the things a normal 24-year-old may love to do, like staying up late with friends or going to the gym, two things that I used to love. I experience quite a lot of pain with fibromyalgia, which has no cure and no steadfast treatment. I manage the pain by taking OxyContin, a highly addictive drug which can cause long-term dependence and was the trigger for an opioid epidemic in the US. It's hard not to become dependent on something which lets you function like a normal human being.

Apart from a plethora of vitamins, the only medication recommended again and again by studies into the chronic disease is CBD, the non-psychoactive component of cannabis.

I was referred to Graham Gulbransen, a GP specialising in cannabis. Dr Gulbransen pushes for the legalisation of cannabis in order to help those suffering. My appointment with Dr Gulbransen set me back $275, and the 25ml CBD prescription then cost $250 to $325, depending on which brand I settled for.

Dr Gulbransen believes CBD can treat fibromyalgia patients for their pain and fatigue. However, he believes it would be more effective if a small amount of THC (the psychoactive component of cannabis) was included in the medicine. THC-based medicines are even less accessible than CBD, with a $700 price tag and mandatory sign off from the Ministry of Health. There is no change to this protocol through the medical cannabis scheme, which has been implemented by the Government to make cannabis more accessible to patients.

In theory, the medical cannabis scheme could help the prices of medical cannabis to slightly decrease due to New Zealand-based cultivation. The current scheme allows GPs to prescribe, however, GPs won't prescribe without education, rules and regulations around dosage, and the prescription will not become cheaper without Pharmac funding.

The medical cannabis scheme is different from the referendum as it only deals with medical cannabis, whereas the referendum supports recreational use. Opening up a recreational market would drive prices down while increasing quantity and quality for patients, and for those who want to explore the beneficial effects of cannabis.

Using CBD has allowed me to cut down on the amount of OxyContin I take, something I thought I would never be able to do. It helps me get to sleep and actually sleep through the night. By creating a recreational cannabis market, and legalising the use of THC in CBD-based medicines, my life would continue to improve.

My wish is for this referendum to make medical cannabis more realistically accessible for patients that need it. I want the ability to walk into a shop and pick up the medication that allows me to function.

New Zealand's cannabis referendum questions and answers.
New Zealand will face an important question about cannabis in September. Photo credit: Newshub.

I have written a series of articles on this topic going into this referendum. I want the many New Zealanders like myself to understand how legislation may affect their accessibility to using cannabis as a painkiller. I also want to show Kiwis another side to the debate - voting 'yes' isn't a vote for stoners, but a vote for those whose lives could be changed by this drug.

Emma Clark works on Newshub's digital news team.