ISSUES AT STAKE: Tread cautiously with dagga

I believe the proposed legislation requires review and thorough research, which to date has not been done.

Easing the laws to allow medical research and discovery is a good idea, but releasing it for general consumption opens the door to possible abuse.

A report released in 2013 by the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug use (SACENDU), suggests that one in 10 people in SA has an addiction problem, with cannabis and alcohol being the most commonly abused drugs.

Although there are some studies indicating that cannabis is as effective as existing painkillers and does have some effect on nausea, appetite stimulation, anxiety and seizures, there is to date no landmark studies into its role in pain management that would make it a revolutionary agent in pain control.

The legislation change should be scientific and not socially driven.

We simply don’t have enough research to understand the complexity of the substance to say it’s safe to use in the long term.

The government’s proposal should focus on legalization for purposes of research and for ease of access in the appropriate patient groups, for example palliative care, pain control, and cancer patients.

The trends in those countries that have legalized it, has led to much fraudulent prescriptions and ultimately becoming an epidemic of abuse, especially among those under 18.


I must point out that there are potentially many benefits that will arise from cannabis research, but there has got to be a clear message put out that it’s not the same as the substance that is being smoked, eaten, vaporized and brewed in teas.

The danger is that if its being used medicinally, we have no idea of what dose is being administered and what the potential side effects are – such as changes in blood pressure, pulse rate, paranoia, extreme anxiety and panic attacks, to name but a few.

We also don’t know much about its interactions with chronic medications.

Until it has been properly researched, sub-types isolated, cleaned up and safety assured, it cannot be handed out ‘willy-nilly’ and promoted as a ‘naturalistic or homeopathic’ treatment.

Cannabis can exacerbate relapses in Bipolar disorder and it can cause chronic amotivational syndrome among long-term users.

It impairs cognition and leads to subtle, but significant impairment in academic functioning and judgment.

Research has shown use among teens under 18 impacts higher brain function called cognition, which is essentially learning, memory, concentration and intellectual development, as well as motivation.

These are the very faculties that are most in need in that age group.

If we were talking about investing and losing money as the currency of this transaction, then that would be acceptable. But we are talking about life and health and quality of life.

As a pain practitioner working in a pain clinic, I have seen many anecdotal cases where cannabis has been more effective than traditional agents.

It has helped many cancer patients with pain relief, mood elevation, nausea and appetite.

But these are cases where they have gone through the process of trying the traditional approaches, which still work very well in many patients.

There are also many cases where the cannabis oil has not helped at all, and in some cases made the patients more unwell.

Laurie Smith

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