Kiwis duped into buying medicinal cannabis products with psychoactive substance

Kaitlin Ruddock
Source: 1News

Unsuspecting Kiwis have been duped into buying medicinal cannabis products that contain a psychoactive substance, believing they were endorsed by celebrities including Richie McCaw.

A number of websites and social media accounts have used the All Black great’s name for their own gain, advertising CBD products online as "Richie McCaw’s CBD oil" or "Richie McCaw’s CBD Gummies".

Fair Go has been contacted by a number of people who purchased medicinal cannabis products online, believing they carried a Kiwi celebrity endorsement. In each case, they thought they were buying one bottle for a small fee but were charged hundreds of dollars more.

Carole Moselen told Fair Go she purchased a CBD product in the hopes of helping ease the pain of a sick friend.

The 77-year-old had read an online article that claimed to have the backing of a national hero. “It was Richie McCaw and he was the CEO of this company and it was promoted by Steve Hansen and Russell Crowe and Lorde,” she said.

Moselen was linked to a page selling Essential Extract oil but after making her purchase, she soon realised she’d been overcharged. She says she couldn’t find a way to contact the company and never got a confirmation email after placing her order.

She contacted her bank immediately to dispute the transaction and eventually got her money back.

Fair Go contacted McCaw over the matter and he sent a video response to set the record straight.

“I just want to say, I feel really sorry for the people that have been caught up in this scam. Especially in the new digital world, these things pop up fairly regularly,” he said.

“When I partner up with anyone, a lot of thought goes into who the right people are to partner with and if it doesn't seem right or seems a little bit odd then it probably is and I'd just encourage people when they have that thought, to look into it a bit further.”

The main article about McCaw has now been pulled down, but there are plenty of other webpages and social media accounts that continue to falsely use his name for their own gain.

McCaw says his team are trying their best to close those pages down and “warn people to be able to make the right decision when it comes to these things”.

Fair Go understands that neither Hansen nor Lorde have endorsed the products.

Despite Moselen and other customers cancelling their orders, the products still showed up at their doors.

To find out what was actually in them, Fair Go took a bottle of Nature’s Method CBD Gummies and Essential Extract oil to a laboratory at the Auckland University of Technology. It’s the first university in New Zealand to offer a postgraduate course on medicinal cannabis.

Associate professor Ali Seyfoddin told the programme that consumers need to know “as it stands, ordering CBD products online is illegal, you need to have a prescription”.

“The only way you can get these products legally is to go to the doctor, get a prescription and go to the pharmacy.”

He says despite the recent introduction of a Medicinal Cannabis Scheme, it can be difficult and expensive for Kiwis to get a prescription – so some are turning to the black market instead, with no way of knowing what's actually in their chosen medication.

Test results showed that the CBD Gummies had 16 times less CBD than what was advertised on the label. The Essential Extract oil had twice as much CBD as was reported on the label, but it also contained traces of THC.

THC is a psychoactive ingredient that produces the “high” sensation. To be considered a 'CBD product' by the Ministry of Health, it can't have more than two per cent THC. The Essential Extract bottle had three times that.

The Ministry of Health says the "whole point" of the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme is to improve access to safe medicinal cannabis, but the scheme's only been around for a year so it's early days.

"The Ministry is working with companies who are importing medicinal cannabis products to verify them against the quality standards. The Minister has now twice extended the transition period to allow companies more time to submit products for approval."

Fair Go has repeatedly tried to contact the companies on the phone and via the internet for their side of the story.

There has been no response to Fair Go’s questions.