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New Zealand patients suffering pain which cannot be managed with conventional pain-killers have had success with medicinal cannabis - but found it was much more costly than supplies of illicit cannabis, a lobbyist for the legalisation of cannabis says.
"They would rather be smoking cannabis than taking the commercial drug: they find the cannabis more effective, cheaper, and more pleasant to take," NORML spokesman Chris Fowlie told NZPA.
"But growing their own or buying it illegally brings significant risks."
A consent notice to distribute cannabis extracts in New Zealand as a branded drug, Sativex, has been gazetted, the British drug manufacturer, GW Pharmaceuticals, said today.
It is planning to appoint a commercial partner in New Zealand to distribute the drug, a spray administered under the tongue.
Its Sativex treatment - approved for the relief of spasticity in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients - contains two active ingredients, THC and CBD, from whole plant extracts from the cannabis sativa plant.
A common symptom in the degenerative nerve disease, spasticity - continuous or repeatedly muscle contractions - can interfere with movements, speech, and walking and may include severe, painful, and uncontrollable muscle spasms.
Medsafe has spent over two years considering whether to allow the marketing and sale of the cannabis spray as the Government has come under increasing pressure from some patients and scientists to legalise cannabis use to alleviate chronic pain for accident victims, and some sufferers of multiple sclerosis and cancer.
Mr Fowlie said about five people with neuropathic pain were already using the drug, with ministerial approval.
"Getting approval is one thing, but paying for it is another," he said. The initial legal user, who lived near Nelson, had his Sativex funded by ACC for back pain, but other patients had said paying for the drug was more expensive than buying illicit cannabis.
"They all believe Sativex works," he said.
It was cheaper than traditional pharmaceuticals, which sometimes did not adequately suppress pain, and it had an instant effect which made it easier to monitor the dosages.
Some patients also did not like the alcohol base of the spray: several users had suffered alcohol "burns" in their mouth and they had to find a new spot to spray up to 20 times a day.
Mr Fowlie said patients were now waiting for drug funding agency Pharmac to consider whether it would subsidise the drug, which he said cost about $300 for a small bottle that lasted patients between a week and a month, depending on their dosage.
A spokesman for Pharmac said it had not received any funding application, and it had not paid for any of the drug used under ministerial approval.
In its application to Medsafe, GW Pharmaceuticals said that in therapeutic doses, Sativex may produce side-effects "interpreted as a euphoria or cannabis-like high".