General funding applications for medicinal cannabis

Pharmac does not currently fund any medicinal cannabis products.

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Clinical experts discuss medicinal cannabis

PTAC (the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee) discussed medicinal cannabis at its meeting in March 2021 as part of an overarching horizon scan sought by Pharmac.

They found that clinical evidence about the use of medicinal cannabis spanned a wide range of conditions. However, the evidence was generally of poor quality, did not capture long-term risks, and did not demonstrate a meaningful benefit when treating most symptoms or conditions.

PTAC thought that there was a significant potential risk of harm from medicinal cannabis if it were not prescribed and used appropriately (according to high-quality clinical evidence).

They noted that any application to fund medicinal cannabis would need to meet requirements as detailed in the Guidelines for Funding Applications to Pharmac, but in particular it would be important that any application had:

  • A clearly defined patient population and symptoms (or disease)
  • good quality supporting evidence (eg. randomised controlled trials)
  • an appropriate comparator treatment in a patient group that could be generalised to the New Zealand population
  • long-term outcome and safety data.

Supplier Guidelines for Funding Applications [PDF, 629 KB]  

The Committee noted that products without Medsafe approval do not have the benefit of Medsafe’s assessment of the product’s content, quality, production, and safety; including long-term risks. The Committee therefore thought, given safety considerations, that funding applications to Pharmac should ideally be for Medsafe-approved products.

PTAC considered that applications for medicinal cannabis products should be considered on an individual basis, rather than as a class, due to variation in their manufacture, quality, and component cannabinoid compounds.

Pharmac would welcome any funding application that met these requirements.  

Read the full PTAC record [PDF, 245 KB]

Making a funding application for medicinal cannabis products

Who can apply

Anyone can make an application to Pharmac for funding of a medicine. They can be a patient, health professional or a pharmaceutical supplier.

Pharmaceutical companies usually make the application. They have access to the clinical information Pharmac needs to assess applications.

The same as other medicine funding applications

We would treat any application to fund a medicinal cannabis product the same as other medicine funding applications. They must meet the same regulatory standards and we’ll assess them using the same process.

Pharmac needs:

  • published evidence that supports the health benefits of the product.
  • Information on the regulatory status of the product, such as if:
    • the Medicinal Cannabis Agency has verified the product meets minimum quality standards, or
    • the product is Medsafe approved as a pharmaceutical.

Read about the minimum quality standard for medicinal cannabis – Ministry of Health website(external link)

Find out more about Pharmac’s funding application process

Sativex funding application

PHARMAC has assessed one cannabis-based product which is classified as a controlled drug for funding: Sativex (cannabidiol with tetrahydrocannabinol).

Sativex is currently the only cannabis-based product registered as a medicine for use in New Zealand.

Read the Sativex datasheet – Medsafe website(external link)

Previous consideration of a cannabis based medicine

We considered funding Sativex for treating:

  • spasticity due to multiple sclerosis (the registered indication)
  • pain (including pain associated with spasticity) (off-label use)
  • refractory epilepsy (off-label use).

How we assessed the application

First, we asked our Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee (PTAC) to review Sativex.

Read more about PTAC

Advice from experts is an important part of PHARMAC’s funding decision-making process. Our experts make recommendations based on published evidence.

Check out a summary of PHARMAC’s funding process

PTAC’s findings

In August 2015, PTAC considered the published evidence for Sativex’s use. PTAC found that the clinical evidence did not demonstrate that Sativex was more effective than other medicines that we already fund for the same uses.

The Committee recommended that PHARMAC decline funding for all three clinical uses listed above. When PTAC recommends we decline an application, the medicine is not usually funded.

In this case, we haven’t made a decision yet. This allows us to reconsider it for funding if new information becomes available.

Find full details of the Sativex funding application in PHARMAC’s application tracker(external link)

Read the paper requesting clinical from PTAC on Sativex [PDF, 12 MB]

Read PTAC’s consideration of Sativex in the minutes from the August 2015 meeting [PDF, 378 KB]

Who to contact

If you have questions about making a funding applicaton, email enquiry@pharmac.govt.nz