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Medicinal cannabis access in Nelson stymied by lack of pain specialists

Those seeking medicinal cannabis products in Nelson are being stymied by the lack of a specialist pain clinic in the region. Nelsonians wanting a medicinal cannabis prescription are struggling to gain approval because of the lack of appropriate pain specialists in the region.

Medicinal Cannabis Awareness New Zealand trustee Shane Le Brun said no Nelson doctor has prescribed medicinal cannabis spray Sativex as yet, despite a number of chronic pain sufferers and their families clamouring for access.

The greatest barrier is the lack of a pain clinic in the Nelson region, he said.

"No one even has a show of getting it in Nelson at the moment. It's such a rigmarole patients are a bit hesitant to go shopping [around] for it.

"The forms for off-label [Sativex], if you've got a specialist who's got the cajones to go up against the Ministry of Health, there's no one playing God and shutting down applications. You've got to find a specialist - that's the hurdle."

Sativex is one of two medicinal cannabis products currently approved for use in New Zealand.

To be prescribed Sativex an approved specialist must provide proof in the form of medical studies that it is an appropriate treatment for the patient, and that all other options have been tried.

Le Brun is involved with a medicinal cannabis charity which hopes to raise $50,000 in six months, funding Sativex for 10 patients across New Zealand.

The charity's secondary goal was to provide a $600 U.S-based course on medicinal cannabis to interested medical professionals.

Training on medicinal cannabis would hopefully empower those within the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board to prescribe Sativex, Le Brun said.

A registered nurse, who did not want to be named, said her 23-year-old daughter had been in severe neuropathic pain since age 11.

She has visited three hospitals, three pain clinics, two rheumatologists and twice been admitted to Starship Children's Hospital in 2006 and 2007 but no one in Nelson had been willing to prescribe Sativex.

One GP expressed concern to the family that prescribing medicinal cannabis would attract undesirable patients, the nurse said.

"I'm not a fan of recreational use [of cannabis] but I have seen a little girl suffer too long. It's an awful thing to see your child sweating and writhing in pain.

"We want to do it within the law. I'm not a pharmacist or a chemist. I want it to be totally above board and I want it to be something that's been used to treat pain, and that's why we know Sativex should be ok."

A study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal on Friday found one in 20 Kiwis over the age of 15 use cannabis for "medical purposes", but 70 per cent of those also use it for recreation.

Only 32 per cent of doctors would consider prescribing medicinal cannabis products if they were legalised.

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