Moves are afoot to allow the use of medicinal cannabis following the death of Nelson teenager Alex Renton who was undergoing experimental treatment using the product.
The 19-year-old died peacefully in Wellington Hospital last night where he was receiving a treatment of Elixinol, which is derived from hemp rather than marijuana, for a condition which caused him to suffer repeated seizures.
Alex's family applied to Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne to be able to import and use the product and was granted a one-off dispensation on compassionate grounds.
Prior to his death, Alex had been brought out of his drug-induced coma and was breathing on his own.
In a Facebook post last night, his mother Rose Renton said Alex died surrounded by family, "listening to own music with a tummy full of mum's food".
Labour MP Damien O'Connor, who is drafting a private members bill which would allow better access to cannabidiol (CBD), says the momentum created by Alex's case should be used as a catalyst for change.
"The family asked for access to medicinal cannabis, we don't know whether that was a positive or negative influence, but what we need to do is to use this terribly sad situation to continue the momentum to provide access to medicinal cannabis as one tool in a toolbox available for medical practitioners," he says.
Alex's death was a "big disappointment and shock and sadness for the family," he says.
It has also left those advocating the use of medicinal cannabis in a fog of uncertainty because Alex's cause of death isn't known.
Mr O'Connor says a law change would make it easier for those who need the treatment but can't afford it to get access to it.
Currently those wanting access to the treatment need to apply to Mr Dunne, like Alex's family did.
"It's going to be hard if all people have to apply to the minister, so what we need to do is use the existing structure and ease the way and ensure any cannabinoid oil extract is affordable for the families who don't have the resources but do have the need."
More work needed to be done on the bill before it is finalised, but an indication from select committee in the early 2000s recommended the issue should be progressed.
This included looking at international best practice and determining which extracts are effective, Mr O'Connor says.
While a law change may have made access to the treatment easier for Alex, Mr O'Connor believes their application was dealt with "reasonably quickly".
Meanwhile, Mr Dunne has no regrets about granting the use of CBD to Alex, but says future applications from others would be treated on a case-by-case basis.
"I think it was worth it on compassionate grounds and I'm just sorry it hasn't proven successful."
Alex's family is currently organising a memorial in Nelson next weekend.
source: newshub archive