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Medical profession willing to prescribe medicinal cannabis

17 Apr 19

Credit: NZ Herald
Medical profession willing to prescribe medicinal cannabis
63% of GPs have been asked about medicinal cannabis

Nearly half of all medical professionals surveyed have had patients or others ask for medicinal cannabis prescriptions in the past 12 months.

This has been the case for 63% of general practitioners and 77% of head pharmacists, according to a Horizon Research survey of 1,091 medical professionals, particularly doctors and pharmacists, on their attitudes, exposure, and knowledge regarding medicinal cannabis.

The survey was commissioned by New Zealand's largest licensed medicinal cannabis company, Helius Therapeutics.

Believed to be the most comprehensive survey of medical professionals on medicinal cannabis issues, the survey finds New Zealand’s doctors have a strong willingness to prescribe medicinal cannabis products for a wide range of conditions from next year if they have supporting data sheets and consumer medicine information. While pharmacies are keen to fill the prescriptions.

89% of those qualified to prescribe medicines said they would prescribe medicinal cannabis products for one or more of 20 medical conditions, if they had enough information, with chronic pain named the number one condition they would most prescribe it for (61%).

Presently, 4% of all medical practitioners are personally prescribing currently-approved medicinal cannabis and 11% of GPs, with Sativex the most prescribed cannabinoid medicine.

Paul ManningExecutive Director of Helius Therapeutics, Paul Manning, says it’s increasingly clear that healthcare professionals’ views on medicinal cannabis products and their likelihood to prescribe and dispense products, or provide information to people, is influenced by their exposure to it through patients, as well their clinical knowledge of its therapeutic benefits.

“Our data shows it’s those who are well-informed that are the most enthusiastic about medicinal cannabis products coming to market. Understandably, many New Zealand medical professionals just haven’t had the exposure to cannabinoid medicines, so information and education for doctors, in particular, will be critical to patient accessibility.”

The survey confirms there is a significant need to inform the medical profession with only 24% overall feeling very well or well enough informed about medicinal cannabis products. 

He says one telling sign regarding medical professionals’ low awareness of how cannabis medicines work was that respondents were asked if they were aware of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Overall, 64% were not aware, just 36% were aware.

Lack of awareness was highest among nurse practitioners (86%); junior doctors not in training (80%); surgeon-specialist consultants (75%); and General Practitioners (65%). While awareness was the highest among physician-specialist consultants (58%).

“We will certainly be playing our part to help ensure medical professionals can make well-informed, evidence-based decisions and offer confident advice about our New Zealand Grown cannabis-based products,” says Mr Manning.

With Parliament passing The Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill late last year and with the regulations, licensing rules and quality standards to be set this year, the survey reveals patient demand is already building with significant enquiries and requests.

Sixty-three percent of all GPs surveyed have had patients or others ask for medicinal cannabis products in the past 12 months. Head pharmacists have experienced even more requests, with 77% approached for cannabis products.

“This growing demand reinforces just how important it is for our country to have an effective Medicinal Cannabis Scheme that enables our healthcare professionals to meet patients’ needs and expectations around access. New Zealand’s regulators are working hard to achieve this by mid-December.

“These results will be encouraging for patients and New Zealand’s emerging cannabis industry. The survey also reinforces to us that doctors will prescribe only the highest quality cannabis products, supported by data sheets. As category leaders, Helius is committed to delivering both,” says Mr Manning.

Eighty-three percent of medical professionals expect medicinal cannabis products to be accompanied by data sheets and consumer medicine information.

The survey showed 68% of medical professionals’ overall favour prescription-only access to medicinal cannabis products, with 20% supporting an access card programme common in North America.

The pharmacy sector is enthusiastic about stocking medicinal cannabis products to fill prescriptions with 100% of pharmacy owners willing to stock cannabis products. Preference for sourcing New Zealand Grown medicinal cannabis products is five times greater than imported alternatives.

From all respondents who worked in the pharmacy profession, 86% said they were most likely stock medicinal cannabis to fill prescriptions if the law allowed; 72% would provide information on medicinal cannabis products to patients; 57% would source medicinal cannabis products from licensed New Zealand manufacturers rather than import (11%); and 31% would stock medicinal cannabis products for sale.

Seventy percent of head pharmacists believe that New Zealand will benefit overall from greater availability of medicinal cannabis products, with only 7% believing the move could cause harm. 

Respondents with the authority to prescribe were also asked how they thought increased availability of medicinal cannabis, through medical practitioners or pharmacies, would affect their practices or organisations.

Seventy-six percent thought there would be increased patient pressure to prescribe medicinal cannabis; 54% thought more time would be required with patients; 24% thought the number of patients would increase (no one thought the number would decrease); and 14% thought it would lead to structure change within their practice.

The results are from a nationwide online survey of 1,091 members of the medical and pharmaceuical professions in New Zealand, conducted between 15 February and 4 March 2019. At a 95% confidence level the maximum margin of erroron the overall sample is +/- 3.1%.

Which areas did the 1,091 respondents work:

  • 41% in general practice
  • 24% in pharmacy
  • 23% in a public hospital or clinic
  • 10% in a private hospital or clinic
  • 8% somewhere else in medical profession

The number who have had requests for medicinal cannabis in the past 12 months:

  • 63% of GPs
  • 77% of head pharmacists
  • 46% of all medical professionals overall.

What medical practitioners would prescribe medicinal cannabis for:

  • 89% would prescribe it for one or more of 20 medical conditions
  • 61% would prescribe it for chronic pain
  • 59% would prescribe it for cancer
  • 47% would prescribe it for multiple sclerosis
  • 42% would prescribe it for radiation/chemotherapy side effects
  • 40% would prescribe it for epilepsy
  • 34% would prescribe it for fibromyalgia
  • 33% would prescribe it for muscular dystrophy
  • 32% would prescribe it for Parkinson’s disease
  • 29% would prescribe it for arthritis
  • 22% would prescribe it for anxiety
  • 22% would prescribe it for sleep disorders  
  • 21% would prescribe it for Tourette syndrome
  • 20% would prescribe it for HIV/AIDs
  • 19% would prescribe it for Alzheimer’s disease
  • 19% would prescribe it for gastro-intestinal disorders
  • 18% would prescribe it for anorexia
  • 18% would prescribe it for dementia
  • 13% would prescribe it for glaucoma
  • 9% would prescribe it for osteoporosis
  • 7% would prescribe it for diabetes
  • 13% would prescribe it for something else
  • 11% would not prescribe it or for none of these

How informed medical professionals feel about medical cannabis:

  • 6% very well informed
  • 18% well enough informed
  • 42% somewhat informed
  • 13% somewhat uninformed
  • 14% poorly informed
  • 7% very poorly informed

For further information contact:
Paul Manning, Co-Founder, Executive Director, Helius Therapeutics

Email or phone 021 619 467.

For information on Horizon Research services please contact

Grant McInman, Manager, Horizon Research

email or phone +64 21 076 2040.