The truth about Cannabidiol (CBD) in New Zealand

The truth about CBD in New Zealand

We Kiwis are a pretty healthy bunch. According to results from the latest 2019/20 New Zealand Health survey undertaken by the Ministry of Health, 87% of adults self-reported they were in good health (Ministry of Health, 2020).

Whether our health is good or not, at some point in our lives we will all experience pain. More than likely we’ll require medication to alleviate the pain. In 2017 the New Zealand government announced a commitment to making medicinal cannabis more available for people with terminal illness and chronic pain. On 18 December 2018, the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Act 2018 came into force. This Act allowed affordable access to medicinal cannabis for people in palliative care.


Changing attitudes to cannabis

Our perception and acceptance of cannabis—and therefore hemp—are shifting. The evidence for this can be seen in:

  • The Government amendments to industrial hemp and food regulations in 2018, allowing the sale of hemp seed as food (Ministry for Primary Industries, 2020).
  • The Medicinal Cannabis Scheme which came into force on 1 April 2020, enabling doctors to write prescriptions for medicinal cannabis (Ministry of Health, 2020).
  • Allowance for New Zealand farmers to now grow hemp on an industrial scale. 
  • The 2020 referendum giving Kiwis the opportunity to vote on whether the recreational use of cannabis should become legal.

Embroiled in the cannabis debate is cannabidiol (CBD). This is a naturally-occurring substance derived from the cannabis plant. It does not produce a “high” like marijuana but is thought to exert a profound therapeutic effect. People are talking: CBD can help with epilepsy, anxiety, sleeping, and pain relief.  There’s a lot of hype around what it may do, some of which may be true. However, without the research to support these claims, a lot of questions remain.  


New Zealand Law, medicines and CBD

To protect the New Zealand consumer our government has laws and regulations to safeguard against charlatans and ensure the medicines we purchase are quality medicinal products. 

For a substance to be a medicine it must have a therapeutic effect. Therapeutic purpose is defined in the Medicines Act 1981 (New Zealand Legislation, 2014).

CBD used to be classed as a controlled drug and fell under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.  However, when the government changed the law in 2018 to allow easier access to cannabis, it also changed the status of CBD to a medicine and so it now falls under the Medicines Act 1981. 

The law defines three classification categories for medicines (Medsafe, 2019). These categories are known as the First Schedule (Medicines Regulations 1984: New Zealand Legislation, 2018):

  • Prescription medicine—The medicine must be prescribed by an authorised prescriber i.e., your GP, dentist. 
  • Restricted medicine—May be sold without a prescription but by a registered pharmacist, in a pharmacy, and the details of the sale must be recorded. 
  • Pharmacy-only medicine—Can be sold in community or hospital pharmacies or a shop licensed to sell that particular medicine. These medicines can be sold by any salesperson. 

CBD is classified as a prescription medicine. You cannot purchase it from a website, Facebook, or any source other than a pharmacy by prescription. If you are bringing it in from overseas you also need a prescription.  


Can hemp seed food contain CBD?

The 2018 change of industrial hemp legislation opened the door for individuals to take advantage of how the law was interpretated with respect to CBD. To comply with regulatory processing methods, when harvesting the hemp seed the farmer needs to ensure there is no contamination from other substances, such as CBD or THC. The seeds need to be washed before being cold pressed for oil.  

To help us understand the relationship between hemp seed food and CBD, the Ministry for Primary Industries has stated (Ministry for Primary Industries, 2020):

  • Cannabidiol is derived from the plant’s flowers and leaves and is a prescription medicine. The new permission is for hemp seeds only.
  • If food or water is infused with cannabidiol, it becomes a medicine and must be registered with the Ministry of Health.
  • Naturally occurring cannabidiol must not be present in any food for sale at a level greater than 75mg/kg, which will not cause any therapeutic or psychoactive effect.

This means any hemp product sold here in New Zealand and labelled ‘Cannabidiol oil’, ‘Full Spectrum Hempseed oil’ or containing ‘CBD’ oil will NOT have a therapeutic effect. If it does, it is a medicine and must be registered as such. 

If you are buying products labelled this way, you’re probably being charged around $100-plus for less than 40ml—far too much for what is supposed to be hempseed oil.  A 250ml bottle of hempseed oil will set you back about $20.


What can you do?

  1. Only purchase your CBD using a doctor’s prescription.
  2. Do not purchase CBD from any online source selling products labelled ‘Cannabidiol Oil’ or ‘Full Spectrum Hempseed oil’ or claiming to have other CBD products. There is no quality standard, they are promoting a black-market system, an ad hoc approach, and you have no idea what you’re buying. 
  3. If you do buy CBD from an online or other source, ask questions. How much CBD is in the product? What other ingredients are in it? If you are taking other medications can you still safely take CBD? 

CBD is not unsafe but it’s not without risks.  

Without sufficient scientific research to support the efficacy and the safety of CBD products we must rely on the expertise of our medical professionals to advise us.  Businesses working within the New Zealand hemp industry must play by the rules—NOT with your health.



Medicines Regulations 1984: New Zealand Legislation. (2018, October 25). From New Zealand Legislation website:

Medsafe. (2019, March). How to change the legal classification of a medicine in New Zealand. From Medsafe website:

Ministry for Primary Industries. (2020, September 12). Consultations: Ministry for Primary Industries. From Ministry for Primary Industries website:

Ministry for Primary Industries. (2020, September 12). Proposed changes to the Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006 and regulations under the Food Act 2014: Ministry for Primary Industries. From Ministry for Primary Industries website:

Ministry of Health. (2020, April 6). About the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme:Ministry of Health. From Ministry of Health website:

Ministry of Health. (2020, November 19). Publications: Ministry of Health. From Ministry of Health website:

New Zealand Legislation. (2014, July 1). Medicines Act 1981. From New Zealand Legislation website:

New Zealand Legislation. (2018, December 18). Misuse of Drugs Act 1975: New Zealand Legislation. From New Zealand Legislation website:

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