New Zealanders' use of medicinal cannabis has been steadily growing over the past year, new data shows.
According to Official Information Act data obtained from the Ministry of Health, almost 2000 more medicinal cannabis packs were supplied to Kiwis in March this year compared to January last year.
That included 2618 packs containing cannabidiol (CBD) being supplied in March compared to 1891 in January last year.
It also included 373 packs containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) supplied in March compared to 26 in January 2021 and 1075 packs containing both CBD and THC in March, up from 136 earlier.
Don Budge from MCinfo - a website providing medicinal cannabis information for doctors and patients - said the jump in use was not "huge" yet.
"But there's a definite upward trend when you consider the total of medicinal cannabis packs supplied each month has doubled from just over 2000 in January last year to just over 4000 in March this year," he said.
He said "it's frustrating" that Kiwis are still told New Zealand-made products are hard to find "when they're in fact readily available nationwide, with prescriptions steadily climbing".
"Doctors are increasingly engaged about medicinal cannabis. They're receiving a lot more inquiries from patients and so they're keen to learn more about prescribing it," he said.
And in many cases Kiwi-made products were "nowhere near as expensive" as overseas products, he said.
In many cases Kiwi-made products are "nowhere near as expensive" as overseas products, an expert on the medicinal cannabis sector in NZ says.
The increase comes after cannabis was first made available in New Zealand for therapeutic purposes in 2010, albeit under strict guidelines.
It was not until 2017 that CBD products containing non-psychoactive cannabis compounds were able to be prescribed more widely by general practitioners without the approval of either the minister or the Ministry of Health.
It took a further three years for products containing THC, the psychoactive cannabis compounds, to be prescribed by GPs without the approval of the Government.
For people living with painful, chronic conditions, that proved a long time to wait.
And while the products might be easier to get now, there are still some barriers, Fiona Hutton, Associate Professor in Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington, said in a recent opinion piece.
"Problems include the cost of prescribed cannabis products and the reluctance of GPs to prescribe them, alongside the complex regulatory and compliance scheme accompanying the new (2020) law," she said.
"Although the cost has reduced in the past few years, the price of products – around $200 a month regardless of whether they are CBD- or THC-based – is still too high for those on limited incomes."
Hutton called for a less complicated regulatory environment so cannabis-based products could be made more widely available.