Implications of switching from pharmaceuticals to medicinal cannabis

OIA response

20 November 2020 

Dear [name and contact details withheld]


Thank you for your request dated 22 October 2020, transferred to PHARMAC by the Ministry of Health, under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) for information relating to medicinal cannabis. You requested:

Any and all work dealing with or touching on the financial or systemic implications of people switching from pharmaceuticals to medicinal cannabis (or do-it yourself medicine/homegrown/blackmarket cannabis). Any minutes taken from meetings where these subjects where discussed would also be appreciated, and snub briefing documents for such meetings.

Please find our response to your request below.

PHARMAC has not conducted any specific research into the financial or systemic implications of patients switching from pharmaceuticals to medicinal cannabis products, however PHARMAC did initiate the consideration of funding for cannabidiol with tetrahydrocannabinol (Sativex)(external link) in the Pharmaceutical Schedule (“Schedule”) for three indications (spasticity due to multiple sclerosis; pain, including pain associated with spasticity; and treatment-refractory epilepsy). [To ensure transparency of this consideration, PHARMAC has recorded details and recommendations of the consideration of Sativex in the PHARMAC Application Tracker.]

PHARMAC sought expert clinical advice from the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee (“PTAC”) at the meeting held in August 2015. PTAC recommended to decline listing Sativex to the Schedule for all three indications reviewed, noting that it considered that the evidence for use of Sativex in these settings was poor. Record of the PTAC meeting held on 13 & 14 August 2015 [PDF, 378 KB] can be found on our website: > About > How we get expert advice > Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee (PTAC) > Records of PTAC meetings > Records from 2002 to 2019.

Please refer to the PHARMAC Application Tracker to view the status and public information related to the consideration of Sativex, including links to related clinical advice meeting records. The Application Tracker can be found on our website: > top right corner: Application Tracker(external link).

Sativex is the only cannabis preparation currently registered for medical use in New Zealand.  It is registered for use in patients with moderate to severe spasticity due to multiple sclerosis.  Doctors may sometimes wish to prescribe it for other, non-registered uses (‘off-label’). Sativex is a Medsafe registered pharmaceutical and is not the same as medicinal marijuana/cannabis. You may also be interested to know, since 1 April 2020, all medical practitioners registered with the Medical Council of New Zealand can now prescribe Sativex for any indication. This includes vocationally-registered general practitioners, who are no longer required to apply for Ministerial approval to prescribe[1].

We trust that this information answers your queries. We are making our information more freely available, so we will now publish selected OIA responses (excluding personal details) on our website. Please get in touch with us if you have any questions about this.

Yours sincerely


Rachel Read
Manager, Policy and Government Services


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