What is Medical Cannabis?

Navigate medical cannabis in New Zealand. Understand its distinction from recreational flower, the types of medicine and how to get a prescription.

If you’re unfamiliar with medical cannabis, you may be wondering what medical cannabis is and how it differs from recreational flower.

Cannabinoids are the primary compounds in medical cannabis. There are over 100 different cannabinoids including Cannabidiol and THC that interact with the human body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). Many of our most important bodily functions are regulated and controlled by the ECS, including learning and memory, stress, sleep, pain control, inflammatory and immune responses.

Medical cannabis is prescribed in many different forms, including gels, oils, topical creams, tinctures and medical flower. How you consume your medicine will influence the duration and strength of its effects. Medicinal oils take longer to take effect but the effects may last several hours. Vaporised flower will take effect immediately but does not typically last as long.

Regulated medical cannabis is not the same as recreational flower. All forms of medical cannabis, including flower, must meet strict regulations and go through an extensive testing process. In fact, New Zealand has the strictest standards in the world.

What is medical cannabis used for?

Medical cannabis including, CBD and THC oils are being used by patients across New Zealand. Many of the patients who request prescriptions suffer from chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, fibromyalgia or migraines. Studies are still assessing the efficacy of medical cannabis but the results so far are encouraging. However, it must be noted that medicinal cannabis is not an approved treatment for any of these conditions in New Zealand and the efficacy of these medicines is not yet proven. You can still request prescriptions for these medical conditions but it will be up to your doctor to determine if cannabinoid-based medicines are right for you. It's a good idea to see a doctor who knows about cannabinoids, as their experience and knowledge can help you get on the right treatment plan faster.

Is medical cannabis an approved medicine?

In New Zealand, Sativex is the only approved medicine. It is prescribed to alleviate symptoms of muscle spasticity from multiple sclerosis. Other medicinal cannabinoid products that meet the minimum quality standards can still be prescribed for different health conditions. This is largely up to your prescriber and will only be considered once they have reviewed your medical history and current state of health.

We expect that local growers and producers will meet Medsafe’s standards for approved medicines in the near future, which could soon open the door to subsidised medicines for patients in New Zealand.

Where do I get a medicinal cannabis prescription in New Zealand?

There are several options for patients seeking a medicinal cannabis prescription in New Zealand. You can request a prescription from your GP. However, many patients find their GP is against prescribing any form of natural medicine. If you know your doctor is unlikely to prescribe this medicine, it could be worth going directly to a specialist clinic.

If you would like to talk to a doctor about getting a prescription, all you have to do is fill out our short questionnaire and book your consultation. You will then be able to use our patient portal after you receive your prescription. From there, you can choose the medicine you want (provided it meets the dosing guidelines outlined by the doctor).

Types of Medical cannabis products available

Patients in New Zealand will have more options when it comes to their medicine as our relatively new industry progresses. Both CBD oils and THC medicines can be prescribed in New Zealand.

Your medicine can be prescribed in various forms including:

  • Flower for tea or vaping
  • Cannabinoid Isolate oil
  • Full-Spectrum oil (extracted with other cannabinoids such as THC)
  • THC Oil
  • Oral Sprays
  • Sublingual Solutions (applied under the tongue)
  • Topical Creams

Ordering medicine online

Patients can order their medicine online and have their medicine delivered through our online dispensary (accessible through our patient portal). Some pharmacies also allow you to order your medicine online but you should be aware that some pharmacies and dispensaries mark their products up significantly higher than others. Our product prices are made available to you after your initial consultation.

Is medical cannabis safe?

This topic needs further research but the potential side effects of medical cannabis include:

  • Dizziness
  • Trouble concentrating and remembering
  • Delayed reaction times
  • Interactions with other drugs
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased risk for heart attack or stroke
  • Change in appetite
  • Worsening symptoms of some mental illnesses

Certain types of medical cannabis, such as Cannabidiol Isolates, are designed to support health conditions but do not produce the "high" that is often associated with recreational flower. Most patients handle treatments well, but it is important to tell your doctor about your medical history and any medications you are currently taking so that he or she can decide if medical cannabis is safe for you to use.

Where can I learn more about medical cannabis?

The best way to learn more about medical cannabis is to speak to an experienced and qualified medical professional. Our clinical team are happy to discuss the different products available in New Zealand, the different methods of delivery and which option might suit you best. Book your consult today.

You can find out more about medical cannabis by reading our other blogs and visiting the Ministry of Health website.


  1. https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/cannabinoids/
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/endocannabinoid-system
  3. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2021.626853/full
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8864967/
  5. https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/regulation-health-and-disability-system/medicinal