ESR calls for robust regulations over medicinal cannabis

18th February 2019

One of the country’s main drug testing laboratories says robust regulations are needed to cover locally produced medicinal cannabis.

ESR says with Parliament having given the green light permitting a medicinal cannabis industry, it’s crucial that an evidence-based regulatory process is developed that defines strict quality standards.

ESR’s Manager of Forensic Toxicology and Pharmaceuticals, Mary Jane McCarthy, says there also needs to be robust safety data to ensure the products are safe and are shown not to cause harm to the people that use them.

She says there is a lot of confusion about medicinal cannabis.

“Our concern is that people don’t necessarily know or understand what is in the product they are taking.”

“We have had a number of the medicinal cannabis products available here in New Zealand – supplied to us by concerned patients and parents – and our tests have shown that there’s quite a lot of variability in the quality of products with some difference in the concentrations of the active ingredients,” Dr McCarthy says.

That includes tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis, and cannabidiol (CBD), which is not psychoactive. CBD has now been rescheduled so that it is no longer a controlled drug and is only a prescription medicine under the new law changes. Products containing it should become more available to patients from now on.

“We see a range of products – imported and homemade. Some of them have much higher concentrations of THC than they are stated to.

“We really do need to be testing and understanding the safety of these products and make sure they are effective for the condition which they are being used for, and won’t cause harm, she says.

She cites one instance when a worried grandfather contacted ESR about the product his grandchild was using for uncontrolled epilepsy.

“In this case, there should have been high CBD and low THC – in fact it was the opposite. I would be very worried about a child taking a product like that.”

ESR already provides testing services for pharmaceutical products for New Zealand and the Ministry of Health.

It is also part of the Medicinal Cannabis Research Working Group, a collaborative of both New Zealand and international expert specialists in medicinal cannabis research. The group has been set up in advance of upcoming clinical trials, which, once approved, will be the first time a locally grown pharmaceutical grade cannabis product will be tested on New Zealand trial participants.

ESR will carry out the chemical testing on any pharmaceutical grade cannabis being used in the trial and will also be testing patient results.

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