Thousands of Kiwis need safe legal access to medical marijuana

More than 11,000 New Zealanders could already be using marijuana for medical reasons, or could benefit from doing so. They deserve compassion, not criminalisation.

Estimates of how many New Zealanders suffer from conditions potentially alleviated by cannabis and how many may be already using cannabis illegally can be gauged by extrapolating from Australian figures. Hall et al (2001) estimated NSW has 19,000 medical marijuana users, suggesting New Zealand could have on a population basis 11,400 medical users.

A 2005 British survey of more than 500 HIV/AIDS patients found that one-third of respondents use natural cannabis for symptomatic relief, with more than 90 percent of them reporting that it improves their appetite, muscle pain and other symptoms.

A previous US survey found one out of four patients with HIV had used natural cannabis medicinally in the past month.

Cannabis use is also prevalent among patients with neurologic disorders. Nearly four out of ten Dutch patients with prescriptions for “medical grade cannabis” ( provided by Dutch pharmacies with a standardized THC content of 10.2 percent) use it to treat MS or spinal cord injuries, according to survey data published in 2005 in the journal Neurology. Perceived efficacy is greater among respondents who inhale cannabis versus those who ingest it orally, the study found.

A 2002 British survey of MS patients found that 43 percent of respondents used
natural cannabis therapeutically, with about half admitting they used it regularly. Seventy-six percent said they would do so if cannabis were legal.

A Canadian survey of MS patients found that 96 percent of respondents were “aware cannabis was potentially therapeutically useful for MS and most (72 percent) supported [its] legalization for medicinal purposes.”

A more recent Canadian survey published in Neurology reported that 14 percent of MS patients and 21 percent of respondents with epilepsy had used medical cannabis in the past year. Among epileptics, twenty four percent of respondents said that they believed that cannabis was an effective therapy for the condition.

A 2002 survey of patients with Parkinson’s Disease found that 25 percent of respondents had tried cannabis, with nearly half of those saying that it provided them symptomatic relief.

For sources and more information, see the report “Marinol Versus Natural Cannabis: Pros, Cons and Options for Patients” by Paul Armentano (11 Aug 05) at www.norml.org

(NORML News Winter/Spring 2006)

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