I Went to a Weed Doctor – Here’s What Happened (And Why He Voted NO in the Referendum)

Kelly Bertrand tries out medical cannabis and busts some myths, learns some stuff and is surprised along the way.

When an email landed in my inbox asking if I’d like to head along to see a doctor who specialises in medicinal cannabis, I wasn’t overly fussed.

I’ve never been into weed – I can’t stand the smell of the stuff – and I was wildly uninformed about the benefits of cannabis being used medicinally. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if it was legal. (It is, obviously).

In hindsight, it’s an area I should have looked into more. I have a condition called Fibromyalgia – essentially, it’s a chronic pain condition that affects my bones and muscles that generally makes a little harder most of the time and a little more painful, more so during a flare up (imagine sharp, sharp stabbing pains over your entire body, and haere mai to my life).

It also leads to fatigue and brain fog, which is very annoying when you’ve started a business and you’re trying to figure out Xero for the first time. (Apologies to the client who got an invoice with no bank account on it – although I don’t know if I can blame fibro on that one, I’m generally rubbish at anything to do with numbers).

So, in the interests of both science and a good yarn, off I trotted to The Green Doctors to see Dr Mark Hotu. Yes, he’s a real doctor – he used to be a GP, and his journey to becoming a medicinal cannabis expert has actually been a rather recent one, and has attended seminars in America to hear and see first-hand about the effects medicinal marijuana can have on people like me.

Dr Mark gets excited when I mention I have fibromyalgia – well, as excited one can be when someone brings up a medical condition.

“Out of all the conditions I treat, fibromyalgia is the one where we see the best results,” he tells me, which obviously makes me feel wonderfully optimistic, as that morning I’d rather comically fallen over as I tried to get out of bed because my knees decided they didn’t want to be knees today. Thank God I live alone.

Looking around Dr Mark’s clinic, I’m struck with how, well, normal it looks – I mean, what was I expecting? Walls lined with hemp, a hacky sack on the floor and some incense burning?

Instead there’s a delightful scented candle – Ecoya, if you’re interested – some thoughtfully chosen magazines, fresh flowers and some Scandi-inspired furniture that wouldn’t have been out of place on The Block. So far, so good.

We settle in for a quick chat – a gorgeous green tea included (of course the tea was green, I laughed to myself) as Dr Mark explains the regulations of medicinal marijuana in New Zealand, and holy heck, the regulations are tight.

Medicinal cannabis is completely different from the upcoming referendum, which deals with decriminalising recreational cannabis usage. Patients must be prescribed medicinal cannabis from a doctor – i.e. you can’t just buy a joint from someone down the road and then call it medicinal.

Surprisingly, he says he’s voting No in the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.

“Look, you won’t find a bigger fan of cannabis then me,” he says, with a wry smile.

“But firstly, it will cause more people will smoke and I believe it will compromise our aim to be smoke free by 2025. I don’t have a problem with voting Yes for this bill, but if we could encourage people to use either oral products or convert to vaping, which we know is a lot safer than smoking, that would be a lot better. 

“And secondly, I don’t think enough is going into user education on THC use and I feel that if we had health professionals in dispensaries, we’d go a long way to mitigating many of the harmful side effects from THC, just like what pharmacists do now.

“If they could promise those things, I’d vote yes, but I don’t trust them to do that.”

You can get cannabis oil in New Zealand currently – with or without THC (that’s the one that gives you a high) but fair warning, it’s bloody expensive. A course of THC can cost around the $30 a day mark – and that’s because of the stringent regulations and requirements.

But, the good thing about medicinal cannabis, he says, is the low side effect profile, which I am all for.

So, as for me, Dr Mark starts me on an oil with just CBD. It’s in a little bottle with a dropper, and while I expect it to taste like the smell you can’t get away from at summer festival, it’s remarkably tasteless. It’s a twice-daily situation, with the bottle lasting for around 3 weeks.

And after using the oil for almost a month, I can report a marked improvement. Well, for one, I haven’t fallen over getting out of bed (huge win).

I wouldn’t say all of my pain has gone, but I have noticed than when it comes, it’s duller than it used to be. My body, generally, seems to have calmed down, and things seem to be working smoother than they were a month ago, which is a minor miracle considering I turned 30 and fully expected everything to just shut down, like a computer that hasn’t updated to the latest operating system.

My fingers and toes are usually the canary in the mine for me, and the pain will radiate from there. Now, it seems to stay there more, rather than travelling to the rest of my body.

So, my verdict? Yup, it works. I’ll keep with it – especially as the results should get even better with ongoing use.

None of the information in this story should replace your doctor’s advice. Speak to your doctor or GP before embarking on any new medicinal treatments.

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