16 Oct 2016

MS sufferer happy with cheaper cannabis medicine

4:50 pm on 16 October 2016

A cheaper legal medicinal cannabis product has been approved for a multiple sclerosis sufferer.

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Photo: AFP

AUT academic Huhana Hickey has been prescribed medicinal cannabis since February, but she said the long-term cost was unsustainable.

Sativex is approved to be prescribed for use for multiple-sclerosis patients only.

Until today it was the only medicinal cannabis product legally available for use in New Zealand. All other cannabis products require ministerial approval.

Dr Hickey applied for a cheaper option, Tilray, and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne signed the product off on Thursday.

She said it had been costing her thousands and now she would save at least $700 a month.

She was hopeful it would lead to cheaper access to such drugs.

"Not everyone can afford the $700 or the $500 at the moment with the import licence but if more and more apply, get approved, maybe they'll drop the import licence and Pharmac will pick it up."

While happy with the decision, she was apprehensive about switching to the new medication.

"I'm nervous because I'm changing from a product that does work, but is hugely expensive, to a product about half the price ... but hopefully just as effective."

The charity Medicinal Cannabis Awareness New Zealand has welcomed the minister's decision, saying it was the first victory of its kind, though it was the third application for approval of a non-registered cannabis-based product.

Its coordinator, Shane Le Brun, said a teenage girl's application for Tilray was also now being processed by the Ministry of Health and an application for a different non-registered product was being drafted for a young girl at Starship Hospital.

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