Why Don’t NZ Doctors Prescribe Cannabis?

There is a reluctance for many Kiwi doctors to prescribe cannabis. We explain why and what you can do about it.

You’ve heard that cannabis is a magical elixir for all that ails you. You pop down to your local GP, wanting to try it and see if it works for you. Your doctor refuses to prescribe cannabis to you. Why, and what do you do then?

While many Kiwi GP’s are engaged with their patients and keen to learn more about prescribing it, there could be a number of reasons they don’t (yet).

Society Still Thinks Cannabis is About Getting High

There are still a considerable number of people who think that cannabis is about getting high. It wasn’t that many years ago that cannabis was only known as something used by ‘druggies’ and the moral panic was that it was a ‘gateway drug’ and if you took it, you’d be snorting cocaine off a toilet seat next week.

Despite evidence to the contrary, these attitudes still exist. They can be really hard to shake because these personal opinions are formed and maintained in line with our cultural and ethical standards.

While a doctor may (and should) be up to date with the latest research, it can be a struggle to let go of their own beliefs and prescribe cannabis for a legitimate, evidence-backed, medical problem.

They Simply Don’t Know Enough

There has been no specific training for doctors, giving them information about how, and when, they should be prescribing cannabis. There’s confusion about ethics, and many are worried they’ll prescribe it incorrectly and get it wrong. There are concerns about side effects and the quality of the medication.

Cannabis is still a relatively new medicine because it’s only recently been legalised. Studies are only just beginning, and it takes time to amass information and distribute it to everyone who needs it. However, MCinfo the medicinal cannabis information service of NZ has 1,700 registrations from doctors and pharmacists across the country, educating health professionals.


Despite there being a lot of research into cannabis, there still are a lot of unknowns. Good doctors use science-backed, peer-reviewed, placebo-double-blind studies to inform themselves. This is where cannabis as an emerging medicine is a problem.

While some show that cannabis works well (is efficacious), other studies say it’s no better than a placebo. This is because studies are of varying sizes across different populations, there are different ways things are measured and tested, and it’s scientific chaos.

This has caused some doctors to be distrustful of cannabis as a legitimate medication, or they may want to wait until further studies are done. There are a lot of grand claims on the internet about cannabis, many simply are not true, and this has resulted in some levels of distrust in the medical community.

If you ever look at a study of studies (called a meta-study), the researchers look at 100 studies and realised 60 of them don’t meet their qualifications. Maybe the results were skewed, or too small a group of people, or the thing measured wasn’t what they needed, or the study was ‘of poor quality’. Over time, the scientific chaos assumes an orderly queue and a set of reliable results that can be trusted, even by the most reluctant of doctors.


For some diseases or health problems, cannabis is well known for being helpful. But, what’s not always known is what the dose should be and if THC should be prescribed alongside it. Some doctors may be reluctant to prescribe because they simply don’t know or understand it. They don’t want to get it wrong and end up causing harm to patients, risking their reputation, or creating liability for themselves.

As research continues, dosage guidelines are being created, but it’s still very much in the experimental phase. There aren’t such clear guidelines (yet) as conventional allopathic medications. Standardisation will take place over time.

You Truly Won’t Benefit, or Cannabis May Harm You

You chat to your doctor about your illness or what you’re feeling, and then say that you read an article on Facebook or Instagram about how great cannabis is for this. The doctor then refuses to prescribe cannabis to you. This could be because:

  • Maybe, the thing you saw on the internet wasn’t a trusted, reliable source of information. There might have been studies into your illness or problem and it found that cannabis was completely useless.
  • They have concerns about your ability to take the medication as prescribed
  • You might be taking a medication that cannabis is known to interact with. Unless you come off that medication, prescribing cannabis could worsen the problem or cause another one altogether. About 400 medicines interact with cannabis, including warfarin, clobazam, depressants, sedatives, and even some pain medications.
  • You could be someone who should not be taking cannabis for whatever reason. This includes:
    • Under 18 years old, as cannabis may change how the brain develops, impacting memory and attention span
    • Pregnant or breastfeeding women because cannabis may result in negative outcomes for the baby
    • Men who are trying for a baby because cannabis may lower sperm count and motility
    • People with a predisposition or family history of schizophrenia should not be prescribed THC, although CBD may be ok

If your doctor refuses to prescribe cannabis and backs their decision with good reasons, they are looking out for your best interests.

Where to From Here?

As more studies are carried out, information becomes more widely available, and society accepts cannabis as a legitimate treatment, more doctors will start prescribing it. Until then, if you want to try cannabis for your pain, nausea, sleeplessness, menopause, PCOS, or a huge variety of other illnesses, try another doctor or contact us at The Pain Clinic.

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