Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the many chemical compounds that can be extracted from the infamous cannabis plant.
When mixed with a carrier oil it can be taken orally as a medicine. The CBD compound is not psychoactive, meaning that it won’t make you ‘high’ like the more well-known tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC).
The compound is said to increase appetite, reduce nausea and vomiting, improve sleep, diminish seizures and alleviate anxiety, depression and pain, with no relevant side-effects.
Since the legalisation of cannabis in South Africa in 2018, more people are openly talking about using CBD oil as a medical treatment, even though doctors are not yet prescribing it.
Not registered as a medication
Cape Town GP Dr Bosch told us “I don’t know anyone who is prescribing cannabis oil yet, because it hasn’t actually been registered as a medication. There isn’t a formal drug that has been released through the Medicine’s Control Council (MCC).”
“Some doctors allude to it when consulting with patients, and may suggest local wellness shops that sell it, but those products aren’t registered.”
“From a medical point of view, we can’t say what is in a drug without it being vetted through the MCC,” she explained.
This doesn't deter some people
We asked readers how they feel about offering their kids CBD oils and the responses were almost equally divided.
The majority, at just 38%, revealed that they felt they need more scientific reviews before they would be comfortable giving as yet unregistered medicines to their kids, regardless of the supposed benefits.
But “Absolutely, in fact I already do” said 27% of parents, who appear to feel that the benefits outweigh the risks.
South African’s are however also proving to be conservative, perhaps influenced by an upbringing that condemned cannabis as a drug. 35% of respondents were adamant that they will never let their kids near CBD oil.
Parents want to help their kids
We chatted to two parents who find their way around this moral, and legal, minefield to treat their kids with the cannabis extract.
Tina, who works in office support in Johannesburg, told us how she can’t find a doctor that supports CBD oil use. Her explanation is that “they know that the product works, and they will lose money should they prescribe it to their patients.”
The pregnant mom of one treats her 6-year-old daughter’s seizures with CBD oils. “She was having unexplained seizures and the doctors kept coming up with different reasons that were not confirmed,” she told us.
“After two months of non-stop doctor’s visits and huge medical bills a family member told me about the oil, and that’s when I decided to give it a try.”
Just two days to change
Tina says that within two days she noticed a big change in her daughter.
“She was not moaning about headaches, no more sinus problems, nothing at all,” she says.
“She also suffers from chronic tonsillitis and with the season changes she normally suffers, since using the oil she has not even complained about her throat being sore.”
“I will not be paying a doctor for an assumption again.”
“I truly hope that they make this a legal product so that more people can save money on their medical bills and they would not have to go from doctor to doctor trying to find the problem.”
“And there is no need to stress that the child will get a high while taking the oil, as there is no THC in the product,” she adds.
“Even the homeopath said he didn’t really know”
Jane, a physiotherapist in Cape Town, says she consults with both a homeopath and a GP, “but even the homeopath said he didn’t really know the ins and outs of using CBD oil.”
“I haven’t told the doctors we use the oils now,” she explained, “due to the stigma and poor understanding of the drug, from production to concentration to studies.”
The mom of three treats her 7-year-old son with CBD oil to help him fall asleep at night and to help him concentrate at school.
“If doctors won’t advocate it, then I won’t tell the teachers”
“He definitely settled and went to sleep better,” she says.
But she’s not sure if his concentration has improved, as she is not in the classroom “and if doctors won’t advocate it then I sure didn’t inform the teachers I was using it.” She adds that the child’s OT and speech therapist know.
Jane says she would prefer CBD oil to be legal, monitored, manufactured correctly and for there to be more control over it. She says she’d love to see more research on the substance, even if the evidence goes on to prove it is not an effective medicine.
Technically still illegal
In 2018 the MCC acknowledged the growing body of research that shows that some people react better to medical cannabis as a form of treatment than to allopathic medication, and that there are several cannabis-containing medical products available to the general public.
However, a report released in February 2019 by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) clarified that in terms of the provisions of section 14(1) of the Medicines and Related Substances Act, 1965 (Act 101 of 1965), “no person shall sell any medicine, medical device or IVD which is subject to registration by virtue of a declaration published in terms of subsection (2) unless it is registered.”
The cannabis-containing products and oils that are currently available in South Africa, due to being unregistered and unapproved by SAHPRA, could in fact be considered illegal.
The SAHPRA reports “Suppliers and users of such illegal products are exposing themselves and others to legal and health risks as the safety, efficacy and quality of these products cannot be assured.”
Dangers of an unregulated industry
In 2017 a US based study found that 43% of CBD products contained too little CBD, while about 26% contained too much.
Causing added concern, one in five of the CBD products tested contained the intoxicating chemical THC.
"That's a problem because THC can increase anxiety. It can actually make seizures worse. Those are the sorts of things you need to be careful about," researchers warned.
There has also been some indication that CBD might harm the liver, and there are concerns that CBD oil could interact with common prescription medications.
More evidence is needed
The World Health Organisation does not recommend cannabidiol, reporting that initial evidence shows that it could have some medical use, but more evidence is needed.
Much of this research, however, is gathered from animal testing, test tube studies or from anecdotal evidence.
Only time will tell if CBD oil features in the future of South African healthcare.
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