This article is about explaining what hemp is and the background, effects, benefits and disadvantages of recreational and medicinal use of the Cannabis plant known as dagga, hashish or marijuana. Hopefully it will create some interest to enable more informed decisions by users and potential users. The use of dagga should perhaps not be compared by effect, long term advantages or disadvantages of smoking or drinking, as the motivations, socio-economic and demographic parameters in South Africa may differ.
There are more than 40 cultivars of the Cannabis plant that are commonly called hemp, and these are grown in many places around the world; both in 1st and 3rd world countries. Hemp has a low TCH (tetrahydrocannabinol) content (less than 0.3%), and is used in fuel, weed control, building materials, clothing materials, food stuff, paint, cream, plastics, substitute milk, seasoning and even bird seed. There is no medicinal or recreational advantage in smoking hemp.
Hemp is highly nutritional with 44% of the weight of hempseed being edible oils, containing about 80% essential fatty acids (EFAs). Hemp protein contains all 21 known amino acids, including the 9 essential ones that adult bodies cannot produce. Hemp is currently not grown in South Africa. It is regulated and can only be grown under license. The production of hemp in South Africa on a commercial scale is a debateable subject in terms of suitable soil, rainfall, substitution of alternative crops, commercial viability and the opportunity for circumventing dagga legislation currently in place, etc.
The most common ways of ingesting dagga is probably smoking, drinking as a tea, using the extracted oil and eating. There are many cultivars available each with varying THC content (2% - 20%+). Certain countries grow dagga on a commercial scale, while in others this is prohibited by law. Two states in the USA, Washington and Colorado, became the first to legalize recreational marijuana in the November 2012 general election, albeit in limited quantity for anyone over the age of 21. Dagga is decriminalized in for example the Netherlands, while totally illegal in other countries.
The primary psychoactive compound in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), mimics the structure of molecules called endocannabinoids that the human body produces naturally. Endocannabinoids act on a group of cell-surface molecules called cannabinoid receptors that help to regulate appetite, mood and memory. Because of its shape, THC fits into these receptors, too.
When THC strikes specific cannabinoid receptors, it triggers domino chains of interacting molecules in neurons that culminate in both unusually elevated and abnormally low levels of various neurotransmitters (the molecules that brain cells use to communicate with one another). The result is the well-known “high” of marijuana.
Changes in endocannabinoid levels and/or CB2 receptor expressions have been reported in almost all diseases affecting humans, ranging from cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, liver, kidney, neurodegenerative, psychiatric, bone, skin, autoimmune, lung disorders to pain and cancer. The prevalence of this trend suggests that modulating CB2 receptor activity by either selective CB2 receptor agonists or inverse agonists/antagonists, depending on the disease, and its progression holds unique therapeutic potential for these pathologies.
The above paragraph implies that THC may be used in the treatment or even cure of a myriad of diseases. Research has shown that this could also be true for HIV/AIDS in future as a result of the benefits derived from the stimulation of the body’s defence/immune system.
Sedation is a property of many psychotropic drugs, which includes THC derived from the use of dagga. It can be defined as a decrease in psychomotor and cognitive performance. Many of the earlier neuroleptic, anxiolytic, antidepressant and antihistamine drugs were extremely sedative and sedation came to be considered as an integral part of the activity of these compounds. Newer, far less sedative, examples of each of these classes have shown that sedation is not required for their efficacy. Sedation is now increasingly considered as an adverse effect which should be avoided rather than a desirable effect especially when treating disorders such as anxiety or depression.
A recent 10-year study on 1,923 individuals from the general population in Germany, aged 14–24, concluded that cannabis use is a risk factor for the development of incident psychotic symptoms. Continued cannabis use might increase the risk for psychotic disorder.
Studies have also shown that blood concentrations of 5 ng/mL and higher is equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent, and that motor vehicle accident risks are then the same. Where dealers typically sell cannabis by weight, some use sand or glass beads to make their products heavier. Breathing in these particles over the years may inflame and eventually scar the lungs.
Some microorganisms, especially those that proliferate when the herb is not correctly dried and stored, can be harmful to humans. Aspergillus mould species can infect the lungs via smoking or handling of infected cannabis and cause opportunistic and sometimes deadly aspergillosis. Some of the microorganisms found create aflatoxins, which are toxic and carcinogenic. The lungs and nasal passages are a major means of contracting fungal infections, especially in persons with compromised immune and respiratory systems. Cannabis contaminated with Salmonella muenchen was positively correlated with dozens of cases of salmonellosis in 1981.
South Africa is a country with high incidences of TB and HIV/AIDS and malnutrition prevalent amongst the lower to no-income groups. Opportunistic infections as a result of the improper use, handling and storage of dagga are probably common. (More comment required please).
There is no doubt that the therapeutic use of THC does have health benefits and is indicated for many disorders, anecdotal reporting, sensation seeking statements and pure hype excluded. This is well documented and thus the increased research with positive results in recent years.
One such result is HU-210, a synthetic cannabinoid that was first synthesized in 1988 from (1R,5S)-myrtenol, by a group led by Professor Raphael Mechoulam at the Hebrew University. HU-210 is 100 to 800 times more potent than natural THC from cannabis, and has an extended duration of action. There are 8 more HU-Cannabinoids available, each with different properties.
South Africa is a country with an already high crime rate; fraud is endemic and it has a public health system that needs urgent changes. It is an utter travesty of logic to campaign for the legalization or decriminalization of dagga. The criminal and social impact would be too large. Decriminalization will just provide another (better than current) opportunity for criminals.
On the other hand the so-called gateway effect where the consumer is led to the use of stronger drugs (for various reasons), may be mitigated in many instances, but this needs more research as the incidence of dagga use would probably be higher than currently the case.
The deregulation of dagga cultivation (with unknown levels of THC), makes the use of it akin to taking any medicine for any disease, without knowing what dosage the patient needs, nor what he or she requires to be healed.
One would rather advocate that strong pressure be brought on government to relook at the use of THC equivalent products, regulated importation or local production, training of health workers and more prescription control, such as with opiates and other products.
One doubt whether a vocal proponent with the aim of legalizing his/her high for recreational purposes via the inhalation of THC without having any medicinal necessity, is really interested in the well being of their fellow humans.......
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