Cancer and Tobacco Control News

Is there a place for dagga in medicine?

Written by Wilma Stassen

Dagga may have some medicinal qualities, but are the benefits of legalising it worthwhile?

"People tend to think that natural substances have no side effects and are safe - but there is nothing further from the truth," says Dr Gerbus Muller, a clinical pharmacologist and toxicologist

“People tend to think that natural substances have no side effects and are safe – but there is nothing further from the truth,” says Dr Gerbus Muller, a clinical pharmacologist and toxicologist

The legalisation of medical marijuana came under the spotlight again after the late Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini’s “Medical Innovation Bill” was revived in parliament recently.

The Bill relapsed when its sponsor, Ambrosini, died on August 16, 2014. He took his own life after battling with late-stage lung cancer for more than a year. He admitted to using marijuana for medicinal purposes to treat his cancer when he first proposed the bill to parliament in February 2014.

Cannabis has been proven to have some medicinal qualities and medical marijuana is used commercially in several countries to treat certain ailments.

The bill calls for the immediate establishment of a medical centre where at least 100 patients can be legally treated with medical marijuana, a treatment Ambrosini described as “effective and harmless”.

But some experts disagree with this statement.

“People tend to think that natural substances have no side effects and are safe – but there is nothing further from the truth,” says Dr Gerbus Muller, a clinical pharmacologist and toxicologist, and a former lecturer at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. “All medicines, be it alternative medicines or herbs, have side effects.”

Common side effects of cannabis are an increase heart beat, a drop in blood pressure, blood-shot eyes, loss of motivation, anxiety and impaired cognitive functioning, among others.

Puff, pass & regulate

Despite the side effects, Muller believes that dagga could be used in medicine as long as it is strictly regulated to avoid abuse of the substance. This includes controlling the production and processing of marijuana, which involves extracting the active ingredient from the plant and dispensing it at predetermined doses.

The cannabis plant has more than 100 active ingredients of which only one, 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is used in the production of medical marijuana. THC has a potent effect on the central nervous system and is also the chemical that causes euphoria, which is responsible for it being abused as a recreational drug.

“The medical benefits of cannabis have been overhyped and is a smokescreen to try and decriminalise dagga”

Medical marijuana is extracted and slightly modified THC available in pill or liquid form.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved it for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy and also to stimulate appetite in patients with HIV. It is also commonly used to treat, loss of appetite in cancer patients, spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis, post-operative nausea and vomiting, Tourette’s Syndrome (a neurological disorder characterised by repetitive, involuntary movements and vocalisations), and the skin condition pruritis, although it doesn’t have FDA approval for the treatment of these conditions.

Muller notes that there are also other medicines that work just as well or better for the treatment of these conditions.

Cansa’s head of research, Dr Carl Albrecht, told Health-e News that the medical benefits of cannabis have been overhyped and that it may be a “smokescreen to try and decriminalise dagga… because from a pharmacological point of view it is not a big deal.”

Like Muller, Albrecht believes that there are other safe, registered medications available that work as well, or even better than cannabis to treat the various ailments.

According to Muller, there have also been a few documented cases suggesting that dagga may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. He stresses that there have only been a handful of anecdotal cases documented around the world, which does not serve as evidence that it could be used as a treatment for cancer.

“However, there are enough cases to suggest that it might be useful to further explore its potential cancer-killing effects,” Muller tells Health-e News.

According to Albrecht there is no evidence showing cannabis to be an effective treatment for cancer. “The idea that cannabis can treat cancer is an urban legend,” he says. Cannabis derivatives have been used to treat side effects of cancer and cancer treatment, such as pain and nausea.

Research has linked the smoking of marijuana with an increased risk for developing lung and mouth cancers. – Health-e News.

An edited version of this story was also published on Health24.com.

About the author

Wilma Stassen

Wilma Stassen is a reporter at Health-e News Service. She focuses on non-communicable diseases. Follow her on Twitter @Lawim

11 Comments

  • The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health has just advised me that there will be a presentation by the Department of Health to the committee on the Medical Innovation Bill today after plenary.

    Public may attend but not participate.

    The #MedInnovationBill moves into the next phase.

    I for one am extremely excited about this as I as a patient who needs cannabis stand to benefit from it directly as a treatment.

    In my personal experience cannabis is an exceptional medicine, which relieves my pain, helps me eat and affords me restful sleep (plus makes me feel a bit more positive about my life). If I had to take pharmaceutical drugs for all of those symptoms I’d probably be on at least 4 or 5 different medications.

    As a patient it should be my right to take what I feel works for me.

  • Quite honestly, how can anyone in the scientific or medical field who has easy access to documentation, think that the legalisation of marijuana is a bad thing> Not only is marijuana a medicinal plant, with proven medicinal benefits, but it has been proved by science to be 114 times less deadly than tobacco and alcohol. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4311234/

    So why are we so against it? Lies of a previous generation, who are still instilled with the fear of god and bullshit propaganda… I am so tired of intelligent people: even doctors and scientists, who let something as trivial as fear of the unknown or religion trump their sense of logic. Do the research, it’s all there. you don’t even have to do it yourself.

    We live in a country, globally known for specific strains of marijuana (Durban Poison), we have an ideal climate to grow the stuff, we could create a global industry, and in such provide medicinal marijuana for the whole of Africa. It would create new jobs: farms, grow houses and stores all these things require staff.

    In a country where we have a laughable employment rate, this will help boost the economy and at the same time generate ridiculous amounts of money for the Nation.

    Not only that, but think of the other properties of marijuana: Hemp, hemp is another huge industry, used in, rope, cloth, paper, textiles, construction, and even bio-fuel.
    Just take a step back from your closed mindset and realise that by keeping a plant illegal, we are just holding ourselves back.

    In my final statement: The state of Colorado in the United States has made so much money off of their new industry, that they’ve been able to use the money to improve their local infrastructure, give massive amounts of money back into the schooling system and then still have enough spare change to give it back to the community.

  • dagga is medicine it is time to get the wonder weed legalized and reap the benefits of this plant that could improve the lives of many rural farmers

  • Maybe the head of CANSA has something to lose if Marijuana is legal. Oh, wait of course he does. His entire industry would crumble, I also find it incredibly humorous that he’s saying it’s all a scam to push legalisation, when the US and FDA have been unable to make the same claims anymore, the legalisation recreationally nevermind for medical use…which has been prevelant in the US for years.
    Even asking a question like ‘Could Marijuana have a place in medicine’ makes you seem like someone who hasn’t actually looked into this at all, or has something to gain from prohibition.

    The world is waking up, and SA’s only chance for survival in my book is if we wake up to this too..and fast!

  • Marijuana is a medicine for the people, its there for us to grow and harvest, who gives you all the right to take that away from us? But then again, having criminals and corrupted minds as leaders of a nation, this country aint going bright places soon, nevermind legalize the future of medicine!

  • …I’m no specialist in the field of dagga as a medicine (excuse the pun) but I do know of a few referenced facts… Dagga extracts are already registered as medicines in Europe and the US. Dagga is the most studied plant insofar as it has use as a medicine. But perhaps the most telling fact about dagga and people is that we, all of us, have a cannabinoid system with cannabinoid receptors inside our bodies, so you’d have to be a complete numpty to think that dagga is not an essential plant insofar as people are concerned…

  • If its legalised can I grow it mysel or do I need permission from THE MAN, or do I buy it from a licensed company????

  • By Janet O’Donoghue who attended a Department of Health presentation on the Medical Innovation Bill to the Parliamentary Committee on Health dated Wed, 11 March 2015.

    “The Portfolio Committee on Health (National Assembly) was today informed on record by the Dept. of Health that there is already an existing structure in place for the legal use of Cannabis and Cannabinoidal Medicine via an application from a patient, motivated by his/her clinician to the Medicines Control Council under Section 22A (9)(i) and under Section 21, which enables the use of an unregistered drug under specific conditions with permission from the Director-General, and that ALL applications are processed.

    The Chairman and Committee requested that this structure be made more widely available to the public, and more efficient in its application to current patients; that more, current data be provided with regard to palliative care and other treatments with Cannabinoidal medicines; and that specific research be conducted via current institutions as to the applications for Cannabis as medicine.

    The Committee also proposed that they hear presentations from the MRC (Medical Research Council), the MCC (Medicines Control Council) and the CDA (Central Drug Authority) with regard to Cannabis and current Cannabis treatment options.”

  • What Dr. Gerbus Miller either doesn’t know of is not telling you is that all pharmaceutical equivalent medicines for the same conditions treated by Cannabis have much worse side effects than cannabis and most of them can actually kill you if taken in excess and sometimes even if taken correctly. Cannabis itself cannot kill you if taken normally and even under extreme overdose it is unlikely to do any damage and that is a proven fact. So then they will tell you it is intoxicating and can cause death that way. Well so can most medicines, what’s your point? Based on this alone cannabis is already a SAFER option.

    Dr Carl Albreght and Dr Muller however are clearly very uneducated in the matter of cannabis as a medicine or are blatantly ignoring the mountain of evidence for it for what ever reason be it religious, propaganda based or just protecting their wallets. Either way they are making asses out of their credentials. Saying the benefits of cannabis have been over hyped is a blatant lie and saying there is not enough studies to prove its viability as a treatment is utter BS. It is proven science and has seen the use of cannabis legalized in some of the most modern first world countries on earth. As “doctors” no amount of success stories and people cured from cancer or any ailment for that matter is of any value to them unless it’s done in a “peer reviewed” study that was paid for by a company in who’s best interest it will be to never legalize marijuana. So as doctors and especially doctors in prominent positions they are essentially blind to the truth and their opinions are heavily biased and should not be trusted or even asked for. They are conflicts of interest.

    Then there is that uncomfortable fact that cannabis is less dangerous to your health than both cigarettes and alcohol. And just like them cannabis is a natural substance given to us by Nature, God or whoever you serve. So if we can grow or buy tobacco, smoke cigarettes, make or buy alcohol and consume it then we should be allowed to grow the plant and do with it as we please be it to smoke it, eat it, juice it, use it as medicine or sticking it in our hair for decorations. It should not matter.

    Government if you want to regulate it then treat it like alcohol and set regulations for operating machinery, public use and legal outlets for its use and consumption. You can never ever ever control it’s use unless you kill off every plant and seed on the planet. The people will continue to use it as they do, with or without your permission.

    With your permission everyone benefits from it. Without your permission lives are ruined pursuing and incriminating people who have actually hurt no one and done nothing wrong and instead of generating revenue it costs the country billions. The best way forward is obvious.

  • If the author will please note that their facts are incorrect. It is not THC that calms the central nervous system, but rather CBD. THC does cause euphoria, but does nothing for the central nervous system. The idea behind medical marijuana is that strains containing low amount of THC and high concentrations of CBD are encouraged.

    Additionally, CBD is not consumed via smoking, but rather through the use of CBD oil, which renders further risk of cancer (through smoking damage to mouth) null and void.