The newness and complexity of medicinal cannabis and the rules around using it mean it can be hard to find reliable information online.
At Ora Pharm, we want to help patients, caregivers and doctors navigate the world of medicinal cannabis with confidence.
And not just through in-depth research on the health benefits of cannabis, but also by providing advice about integrating medicinal cannabis into everyday life.
Since sharing our earlier article, 5 Cannabis Questions You’ve Always Wanted To Ask, we’ve been made aware of several more common questions that people have.
So here we are with five more simple answers to the most frequently asked questions we get about medicinal cannabis in New Zealand.
Please note that this information is accurate at the time of writing and we will do our best to keep it updated.
However, given the fast-changing nature of New Zealand’s medicinal cannabis industry, this information is subject to change.
Will medicinal cannabis show up in a workplace drug test?
Workplace drug testing is fairly standard practice in New Zealand, especially in safety-sensitive industries.
You may be required to undergo pre-employment testing and, in some cases, random or scheduled testing during your employment.
This should be set out in your employment contract.
Cannabis is included in workplace drug tests.
Therefore, if you are using medicinal cannabis it may show up on your test.
Most tests in New Zealand only test for the cannabinoid THC or the metabolite THC-COOH.
That’s probably because THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis and its effects may be a safety hazard in the workplace.
If you’re using a CBD medicine, it’s unlikely it will be picked up by a workplace drug test and you should be able to continue working as normal.
Although, if the CBD medicine contains small amounts of THC the drug test may detect it.
Drug tests are about upholding safety and they’re designed to detect anything that may impair your ability to do your job.
If you’ve been prescribed a THC-based medicine by your doctor, you should keep a copy of the prescription and also ask your doctor to write a letter of support that includes the expected effects of the medication.
As you’ll see in the two potential scenarios below, mixing THC with work is a grey area. It all depends on the dosage and how and when you’re using it.
You’ve been prescribed a THC-based medication to help with insomnia.
You take it an hour before going to bed and find that it helps you sleep better.
The potential intoxicating effects of the THC should have subsided by the time you wake up and are ready for work.
So even though the THC will show up in a workplace drug test (it can be detected in urine and blood for several days), it’s unlikely that its use will impair your ability to work safely.
You’ve been prescribed a THC-based medication to help with chronic pain.
You need to take the medication several times a day or the pain becomes debilitating.
Depending on the dose, the effects of the THC may impair your ability to work safely.
Therefore, your employer may have legitimate concerns about the THC in your system even though it’s a prescription medication.
In summary, medicinal cannabis containing THC will show up in a workplace drug test, but it’s likely only to be an issue if it impairs your ability to work and you don’t have a valid prescription from a doctor.
To avoid any complications, make sure to talk about your work commitments with your doctor and consider having a conversation with your employer about it as well.
Is medical cannabis legal in New Zealand?
Yes, medicinal cannabis is legal in New Zealand with a couple of important conditions:
- The medicinal cannabis product must meet minimum quality standards and be approved under the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme
- It must be prescribed by a doctor or registered healthcare practitioner
Medical cannabis was effectively legalised in New Zealand in 2018, but with quite significant restrictions.
The Medicinal Cannabis Scheme, established in 2020, is designed to make medicinal cannabis more accessible and affordable.
It allows companies in New Zealand, like Ora Pharm, to start growing cannabis plants and manufacturing, and supplying medicinal cannabis products.
You can read all about the history of medical cannabis in New Zealand here.
What about Australia?
Medicinal cannabis is also legal across the ditch in Australia.
It was legalised at a federal level in 2016 and, in 2019, more than 25,000 medicinal cannabis prescriptions were approved.
The rules in Australia are similar to those in New Zealand.
How much does medical cannabis cost?
The cost of medicinal cannabis in New Zealand has been a major obstacle for many patients.
Costs can vary depending on the concentrations of CBD or THC and the type of product.
The Medicinal Cannabis Scheme should help to lower the cost of cannabis-based medicines in New Zealand and there’s mounting pressure on the government to fund or subsidise approved products.
As New Zealand-made medicinal cannabis products are approved we will likely see them become more affordable and accessible.
Can I get funding for medicinal cannabis?
Medicinal Cannabis Awareness New Zealand has reported that some people have been able to get funding for medicinal cannabis through both Work and Income and ACC.
Pharmac has also said it will consider funding applications for approved medicinal cannabis products but they have yet to grant any.
Some patients have reportedly had success getting private health insurance to fund medicinal cannabis products.
What are the risks of using medicinal cannabis?
As with any medicine, there are potential risks and side effects associated with using medicinal cannabis.
This is something that you should discuss with your doctor.
The potential adverse effects of cannabis have been well-documented, but in most cases, they are short-term and minor.
When considering the risks, it’s important to understand the difference between recreational cannabis and medicinal cannabis.
While they essentially come from the same plant, there’s no way of knowing the cannabinoid blend or dosage of recreational cannabis and it’s usually consumed by inhaling smoke or vapour.
Whereas medicinal cannabis must meet strict safety and quality standards in New Zealand and you have the benefit of knowing the precise cannabinoid blend and dosage.
You’ll also be advised and supervised by a healthcare professional who can adjust your medicine and dosage based on its effects.
There are many different ways of consuming medicinal cannabis, which may help to minimise the risks.
Some of the most common side effects of using cannabis are dry mouth, increased heart rate, dizziness, irritable eyes, dizziness, confusion, anxiety, and nausea.
Most adverse effects tend to be short-term and minor.
However, if you are pregnant, have a family history of mental illness or psychosis, mood disorders, severe liver or kidney problems, or have had recent heart attacks or strokes, you should avoid medicines containing THC, at least until further research is done to understand the risks.
Is medical cannabis addictive?
We know that everything from sugar to Netflix to common painkillers can be addictive, so it’s possible that medicinal cannabis could be, too.
But there’s currently a lack of research on the long-term effects of medical cannabis as opposed to recreational cannabis.
Some research suggests smoked cannabis may be more addictive than cannabis that’s consumed orally based on its effect on dopamine release in the brain.
Scientists are relatively confident that CBD isn’t addictive, but the jury’s still out on THC.
Can I travel overseas with medicinal cannabis?
You don’t have to think twice about chucking a packet of ibuprofen and your favourite muscle rub in your suitcase before jetting off on an overseas holiday.
But what about your CBD oil or medicinal cannabis tincture?
Even though medicinal cannabis is legal in New Zealand and it’s fine to travel with it domestically, you should take some precautions when travelling abroad.
Arriving in New Zealand
According to the Ministry of Health, you can bring a medicinal cannabis product into New Zealand if:
- The product has been prescribed to you by a doctor
- You have a copy of the prescription or a letter from your doctor stating that you are being treated with the product
- You declare the product on your passenger arrival card
- You carry the product in its original container, and
- You are bringing no more than a 3-month supply of a CBD product or a 1-month supply of any other medicinal cannabis product
Departing New Zealand
As a precaution, it’s a good idea to travel with a copy of your prescription and, if possible, a letter of recommendation from your doctor.
That way, if your luggage does happen to get checked and a customs agent has questions, you’ve got all the documentation you need.
Before you travel, you should check how medicinal cannabis products are classified in any of the places you plan to visit or transit through.
In some countries, possession of cannabis is a criminal offence with no exemption for medicinal cannabis products.
Do airport sniffer dogs detect medicinal cannabis?
Some airport detector dogs are trained to detect cannabis.
If you are carrying cannabis flower for vaporising, then it’s possible a sniffer dog will pick up the scene in the airport.
It may be a little disconcerting, but if you have your prescription handy you shouldn’t have any problems.
Many medicinal cannabis products are made from cannabis extract steeped in alcohol (tincture) or blended with a carrier oil, which can mask the plant’s natural scent and make it less likely for a sniffer dog to pick it up.
Just remember, prescription cannabis is a medicine like any other and you should feel confident carrying it with you in countries where medicinal cannabis is legal.
How can we help?
If you have any questions about medicinal cannabis that you’d like us to answer in a future article, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org