Ministry of Health approves homegrown cannabis to be turned into medicine for Kiwi patients

From today, New Zealand-grown medicinal cannabis can be prescribed here for the first time. 

The Ministry of Health has just approved homegrown and manufactured medicines - so Kiwis no longer have to rely on imported medicinal cannabis. 

This green gold has been given the green light by health officials to be turned into medicine for Kiwis patients.

"It's something the whole industry has been working towards," Helius Therapeutics CEO Carmen Doran said.

They have been working towards it for about four years.

"It hasn’t always been plain sailing. Navigating this new industry, coming to grips with the regulatory regime, and growing a new crop at scale has been a massive undertaking," Puro New Zealand managing director Tim Aldridge said.

"It's a really, really big deal for NZ medicinal cannabis. This is the first time we have genuinely homegrown product," NZ Medicinal Cannabis Council executive director Sally King said.

New Zealand has about 35 medicinal cannabis companies and Newshub was given an exclusive tour of the largest one.

"We extract the active ingredient known as the cannabinoids, from the plant then formulate that into a medicine," Doran said.

The full-spectrum CBD oil is manufactured in Auckland by Helius Therapeutics using New Zealand's only organically certified cannabis which is grown outdoors at Puro's Kaikōura Coast farm.

And although it looks like marijuana, it isn't. 

"There's no psychotropic impact or recreational benefit, you can't get high off this," Aldridge said.

Medicinal cannabis has been imported here since 2017 after it was legalised for use.

And now health officials have approved New Zealand-grown products for prescription by any doctor in the country.

Aldridge said this is one of the most significant milestones in the New Zealand medicinal cannabis scheme to date.

"Up until now, New Zealand patients could only be prescribed medicinal cannabis grown overseas, with the vast majority being imported from Australia and Canada," he said in a statement.

Doctors are seeing huge benefits for patients of all ages with conditions including chronic pain, anxiety and epilepsy.

"Cannabis-based products and CBD oil work by acting on that hormonal system and bringing the body back into balance where it needs to be," Cannabis Clinic CEO Dr Waseem Alzaher said.

But educating health professionals and patients can be hard.

"There are plenty of misconceptions in New Zealand about medicinal cannabis, I believe it's a very misunderstood product, a very misunderstood medicine," Dr Alzaher said.

The Ministry of Health is in charge of approving medicinal cannabis products which have to meet the minimum quality standard under the Misuse of Drugs Act. 

The locally grown products are expected to cut patient costs in half.

Aldridge said having locally grown medicinal cannabis rather than importing it could cut costs for Kiwi patients by as much as 50 percent. 

"So a massive price drop and making New Zealand medicines affordable for Kiwi patients," Aldridge said.

Which is expected to result in a surge in prescriptions.