'Huge error': Cannabis expert's warning over medicinal cannabis prescriptions

A visiting cannabis expert warns New Zealand might be about to make a "huge error" with its medicinal cannabis prescriptions rules.

Neurologist Professor Mike Barnes is concerned about a Ministry of Health discussion document recommendation to require a specialist's approval before a GP can prescribe medicinal cannabis.

Prof Barnes, who's visiting New Zealand to run a medicinal cannabis health course, says this will add time, cost money, and further frustrate many suffering patients.

"Specialist sign-off is simply not needed nor wanted. It hasn't worked elsewhere, and it won't work in New Zealand. I strongly believe GPs should be allowed to prescribe without specialist approval, just as they do with other medicines," he said in a statement on Sunday.

"GPs are very well placed to consider the 'whole' patient and treat the variety of symptoms that many people have who would benefit from medicinal cannabis. After all, GPs are specialists themselves in primary care medicine and symptom management."

Barnes believes New Zealand patients will continue to face substantial barriers to accessing medicinal cannabis if the extra layer of medical sign-off is required to obtain a prescription.

"Your Government and Health Minister are clearly driven by improved patient access to medicinal cannabis, so I strongly caution them against including such a proposal in the final regulations. It would seriously impede patient access to medicinal cannabis," Prof Barnes says.

"I suspect most New Zealanders will be equally keen for GPs to be granted professional discretion when it comes to medicinal cannabis, rather than forcing patients to also seek a recommendation from a specialist."

The Government has released a public discussion document outlining proposals for a medical cannabis framework.

After receiving feedback, the Ministry of Health will seek approval from Cabinet on the proposals and draft the proposed medicinal cannabis regulations.