Ministry of Health approves cannabis flower for chronic pain in New Zealand

New Zealand's first "legal weed" has arrived in pharmacies.

The cannabis buds from Australian pharmaceutical company ANTG have approval from the Ministry of Health to be prescribed to patients with chronic pain, but only in the form of a tea.

"This is a great day for New Zealand, just across the Tasman they've had dried flowers available to be prescribed by doctors for at least two to three years - we've been waiting a long time for this," Green Doctors co-founder Mark Hotu says.

Medicinal Cannabis advocate Pearl Schomburg is one of thousands with chronic pain who can now legally ask her doctor for the dried cannabis flowers.

"It's very calming on the body and the mind. I actually started to feel it after the second puff" she said.

"For patients suffering from chronic pain, MS, arthritis, sleep and anxiety problems it's really good for those who suffer breakthrough pain," Dr Hotu says. 

Medsafe says New Zealand's first "legal weed" is only approved for use as a tea, but that's unlikely how it'll be used.

"It took about 5-10 minutes before I felt the effects come on with the vape, it was a lot quicker than with the tea," Schomburg says.

Hamilton's Ngā Hua Pharmacy owner James Yu has 1100 patients on his database already using approved CBD products.

"I suspect a large proportion of patients will go on to use it with a medically approved vaporiser or maybe even smoke it," Yu says.

Smoking it is not something medical professionals condone. But tea can take up to an hour to absorb and relieve chronic pain and he says people claim to feel relief within minutes with a legal vaporiser.

Dr Hotu agrees it's about educating patients.

"In the same way we trust people not to overdose on the morphine or the tramadol we prescribe, we trust them not to take cannabis more than what we prescribe them to," Hotu says.

"Patients are not looking to get stoned, they are using these products to feel better, to relieve their symptoms- it's nausea for me, anxiety, pain," Schomburg says.

Medsafe is reminding all doctors of their responsibilities and the need to keep patients informed that use of this cannabis product by inhalation would have an "increased risk" due to the levels of microbial contamination.

Dr Hotu says patients around New Zealand should be heavily screened to ensure they don't have mental health issues or a history of psychosis. 

And it won't be cheap, $220-$250 for ten grams around double what you'd pay on the black market. But he says "at least you know what's in it".

While this cannabis flower contains less than one percent THC, others due on the market later in the year will contain much more.