Meet the founder on a mission to de-stigmatise medicinal cannabis

11 May 2022
By Hemma Vara

Step inside the newest clinic prescribing medicinal cannabis in Ponsonby, Auckland.

Eva Neshat.

Step inside the heritage villa-turned-medicinal cannabis clinic eat nestled among high-fashion boutiques and gourmet dining in Ponsonby, Auckland, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were walking into a tranquil urban retreat. From the invitingly calm atmosphere to the minimalist decor and contemporary furniture, CannaPlus+ is unlike any other doctor’s office you’ve stepped into before. 

One of the first clinics in New Zealand to offer medicinal cannabis treatment options, patients visiting CannaPlus+ are looking to alleviate the symptoms of common ailments to improve their wellbeing, whether they suffer from anxiety, gastrointestinal issues, migraines, arthritis, inflammation, or sleep problems. 

A contentious elixir, I am curious to hear CannaPlus+ founder Eva Neshat’s views on making medicinal cannabis accessible for all. She says that a holistic view of the medicinal cannabis industry is needed to empower patients and the wider community, and further her goal to provide legal and affordable access to quality treatment.

“Opinions about cannabis are often shaped by one’s family, cultural, religious, and political leanings and rarely rely on data or scientific analysis. The chemistry of cannabis is anything but straightforward, and its complexity has only served to fuel more misinformation”, explains Neshat. 

And talking to CannaPlus+’s chief medical officer Dr Afraz Adam, I can sense how passionate he is about using medicinal cannabis to alleviate modern-day health issues. With one of his specialities being gut health, we chat about modern-day health issues, including the powerful gut-brain connection and the effects of stress and anxiety on the digestive system. Aiming to improve the quality of patient lives through the likes of medicinal cannabis, sound nutritional health, mental fortitude, and other evidence-backed therapies, I’m assured I’m in good hands, and intrigued to know more. 

Read on for our q&a with CannaPlus+ founder Eva Neshat, where she delves into the intricacies of medicinal cannabis, public opinion, & more. 

Would you say there is a stigma around using medicinal cannabis in New Zealand? 

Yes, unfortunately so. This comes from a lack of understanding of the benefits and uses of medicinal cannabis as a whole. Much of the literature that condemns cannabis as a public menace ignores research about its benefits or focuses on the detrimental effects of excessive recreational use. 

We aim to legitimise the perception of medicinal cannabis in New Zealand. The CannaPlus+ clinic has a warm and welcoming feel; we know this is a new area of medical access for many, so we want to ensure the clinic is as approachable as possible while maintaining professionalism. 

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When and how do you think mindsets around medicinal cannabis will shift? 

Although cannabis research is becoming more robust, its thorny legal status impedes its study by medical researchers. Consequently, much literature celebrates it as an almost magical panacea that relies on anecdotal evidence or cherry-picked data. 

Educating patients and GPs is critical to developing acceptance of medicinal cannabis in New Zealand. It is also imperative to continue to research the endocannabinoid system. One of our aims is to study and analyse data to facilitate clinical trials and retrospective observational studies.

How has the surrounding community responded to the clinic?

Since the clinic opened, we have had an overwhelmingly positive response from the wider community. We are backed by a strong board of medical experts, and our opening has been met with great interest due to our affiliation with international clinic network CannaWay. 

Most patients who walk into our clinic have an open mind or are curious. They seek alternative treatment options or adjunctive therapies to alleviate their symptoms, and they have a sense of relief when they enter our welcoming and beautiful clinic. 

The CannaPlus+ waiting room.

How is medicinal cannabis consumed?

Currently, the most prescribed mode is through the use of oral oils and sprays. While other forms like teas and inhalation via vaporisers are making their way into the market, robust research and education are required before they can be prescribed at clinics.

What are the active ingredients in medicinal cannabis? Is it safe? 

The medicinal cannabis plant contains chemical compounds called cannabinoids. THC and CBD are the two main active cannabinoids within the plant and exhibit their effects on the body’s endocannabinoid system, which regulates physiologic and pathophysiologic processes. These include neural development, immune function, inflammation, sleep cycles, and bone development.

THC can cause psychoactive and euphoric effects. Its various clinical applications include relieving neuropathic pain, muscle spasms, and controlling nausea. Because of THC’s effects, some individuals prefer to use the non-psychoactive CBD, commonly used to help with inflammation, nausea, migraines, depression and anxiety.

However, neither THC nor CBD is harmful if prescribed appropriately, and our doctors will determine the appropriate ratio to achieve therapeutic benefits that are right for you.

With medicinal cannabis a new concept for New Zealanders, what should they know if they are nervous or unsure of making an appointment?

Medical cannabis is legal and safe when prescribed by a doctor with sufficient medicinal cannabis knowledge. There is no risk of dependence or addiction to CBD, and you can stop its use at any point with minimal withdrawal symptoms.

It’s important to speak with a trained physician before incorporating medicinal cannabis into a treatment plan — medicinal cannabis interacts with various metabolising enzymes and alters other medications’ effects.

Always look for a reputable, registered clinic. Ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable before, during and following an appointment.

Anxiety, stress, and depression are more prevalent in modern society. Can medicinal cannabis help?

Lifestyle and stress are the prominent factors for modern-day ailments. Anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, low confidence, panic attacks, and other mental health issues are often a culmination of daily stressors.

CBD (and THC in certain instances) assist with improving symptoms surrounding these conditions with minimal side effects. Patient experience and research-based evidence show significantly positive outcomes in individuals with stress, anxiety, and depression (which are sometimes not resolved by using traditional anti-depressants and anxiety medications alone), therefore offering people an optimal quality of life.

Is there anything else we should know?

Our purpose is to improve the lives of New Zealanders, empowering them to live an optimal life by removing barriers and providing access to quality medicinal cannabis treatment.

Lastly, I believe that we are at the dawn of a new era of medicine. I view medicinal cannabis as the gateway to the future acceptance of plant-based medicines, which we are already seeing in overseas trends.

To discover more, visit CannaPlus.co.nz.

More than skin deep: read Fashion Quarterly’s interview with Jessica Roimata Clarke, where she talks all things wellness, mushrooms, and co-founding a business with her best friend. 

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