There are few subjects that can stir up stronger emotions among doctors, scientists, researchers, policy makers, and the public than medical Cannabis. Is it safe? Should it be legal? Decriminalized? Has its effectiveness been proven? What conditions is it useful for? Is it addictive? How do we keep it out of the hands of teenagers? Is it really the “wonder drug” that people claim it is? Is medical Cannabis just a ploy to legalize Cannabis in general?
Whatever the case, South Africans are learning about Cannabis for medicinal use in South Africa.
The Cannabis plant has a history of medicinal use dating back thousands of years across many cultures. The oldest known written record on cannabis use comes from the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2727 B.C. The first written record of the plant in South Africa is by Jan van Riebeeck, who ordered officers of the Voorman to purchase “daccha” in Natal for trade with the Khoikhoi.
Cannabis and its psychoactive cannabinoid, THC, are considered incredibly safe for human consumption. There has never been a death recorded from the use of cannabis. In fact, many studies show it is physically impossible for a human to die from a cannabis overdose.
The documented use of cannabis as a safe and effective therapeutic botanical dates to 2700 BC. Between 1840 and 1900, European and American journals of medicine published more than 100 articles on the therapeutic use of cannabis. In fact, cannabis was part of the American pharmacopoeia until 1942, and is currently available by prescription in Canada, the Netherlands, Israel, and Germany.
Medical cannabis, or medical marijuana/ medical dagga, is cannabis and cannabinoids that are recommended by doctors for their patients. The use of cannabis as medicine has not been rigorously tested due to production restrictions and other governmental regulations. Limited evidence suggests cannabis can reduce nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, improve appetite in people with HIV/AIDS, and reduce chronic pain and muscle spasms.
Modern research suggests that cannabis is a valuable aid in the treatment of a wide range of clinical applications. These include pain relief — particularly neuropathic pain — nausea, spasticity, glaucoma, and movement disorders. Marijuana is also a powerful appetite stimulant, specifically for patients suffering from HIV, the AIDS wasting syndrome, or dementia. Emerging research suggests that cannabinoids and terpenes found in cannabis work together synergistically to help protect the body against some types of malignant tumours.
Medical cannabis can be administered through a variety of methods, including capsules, lozenges, tinctures, dermal patches, cannabis edibles, and vaporizing or smoking dried buds.
What strain of Medical Cannabis are you wanting? What is the difference? Cannabis is made up of 3 different species: Cannabis Indica, Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Ruderalis. Cross-breeding of these 3 types has led to a wide variety of hybrid strains with unique characteristics.
The diagrams below show the cannabis/dagga effects each species may produce.
A hybrid or Sativa/Indica cross may produce a combination of effects.
Least controversial is the extract from the hemp plant known as CBD (which stands for cannabidiol) because this component of marijuana has little, if any, intoxicating properties. Marijuana itself has more than 100 active components. THC (which stands for tetrahydrocannabinol) is the chemical that causes the “high” that goes along with marijuana consumption. CBD-dominant strains have little or no THC, so patients report very little if any alteration in consciousness.
Patients do, however, report many benefits of CBD, from relieving insomnia, anxiety, spasticity, and pain to treating potentially life-threatening conditions such as epilepsy.
In particular, Cannabis appears to ease the pain of multiple sclerosis, and nerve pain in general. This is an area where few other options exist, and those that do, such as Neurontin, Lyrica, or opiates are highly sedating. Patients claim that marijuana allows them to resume their previous activities without feeling completely out of it and disengaged.
Along these lines, Cannabis is said to be a fantastic muscle relaxant, and people swear by its ability to lessen tremors in Parkinson’s disease. I have also heard of its use quite successfully for fibromyalgia, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, and most other conditions where the final common pathway is chronic pain.
Cannabis is also used to manage nausea and weight loss, and can be used to treat glaucoma. A highly promising area of research is its use for PTSD in veterans who are returning from combat zones. Many veterans and their therapists report drastic improvement and clamour for more studies, and for a loosening of governmental restrictions on its study. Medical marijuana is also reported to help patients suffering from pain and wasting syndrome associated with HIV, as well as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
If you want to know about medical cannabis in South Africa please see our FAQ.
We also suggest you read more about “The Endocannabinoid System” and “The Entourage Effect”.
We support responsible Cannabis use and encourage patients is to be entirely open and honest with their physicians and to have high expectations of them. Tell them that you consider this to be part of your care and that you expect them to be educated about it, and to be able to at least point you in the direction of the information you need.