Legalisation of Dagga for Domestic Use in South Africa: A Medical Practitioner’s Dilemma

Legalisation of Dagga for Domestic Use in South Africa: A Medical Practitioner’s Dilemma
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After many years of serious, ongoing lobbying and legal challenges to the various South African Courts, including the Constitutional Court, on the 31st of March 2017 Judge Dennis Davies from the Western Cape High Court handed down a landmark Judgement that declared that Sections of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act of 1992 were invalid and unconstitutional.

Laywer Gareth Prince and fellow activist

The application to the Western Cape High Court was brought by Gareth Prince, Jeremy Acton and Jonathan Ruben, who argued that dagga use and possession was a violation of the right to equality, dignity, and freedom of religion. The net effect of this landmark Western Cape High Court judgement is that Dagga/Cannabis can now be legally grown and smoked at home. The Judgement, however, was quiet on the issue of people trafficking or dealing in Dagga as sellers or distributors.

Mr Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, an Italian constitutional lawyer and South African Member of Parliament

Judge Dennis Davies Landmark Judgement comes about three years after the unfortunate death of an Inkatha Freedom Party’s Member of Parliament, who at the height of his Cancer Suffering led a public national call for Dagga or Marijuana to be legalised in South Africa for medicinal use purposes, a call that gave impetus to the development of the Medical Innovation Bill that will be coming before the relevant Portfolio Committee in Parliament soon.

As a qualified and registered medical professional in good standing with the Health Professionals Council of South Africa, the recent Judgement that legalises domestic dagga usage poses serious professional and ethical questions in relation to the Hippocratic Oath which I signed when I qualified as a medical doctor in 1989. In terms of the Oath that I signed when I qualified, I promised not to administer or promote the administration of anything that will cause harm to my patients or anyone who seeks my professional advice.

Harmful Effects of Dagga Use

In my 28 years of medical practice as a specialist family physician, and as a specialist advisor to public and private employers on health and wellness matters, I have come across a number of my patients, as well as employees of those organisations who because of chronic Dagga usage became addicted to dagga or marijuana abuse. Some of this dagga or marijuana addicted individuals presented with a variety of major mental illnesses (e.g. Psychotic Mental Disorders, Antisocial Personality Disorders or Mood Disorders) that negatively affected their social and occupational functioning, consequently being put in Mental Institutions as State President’s Patients (SPPs). 

Dangers of Dagga Use (2)

In view of the above professional experience and insights, I find it very difficult to advocate for blanket dagga usage in domestic settings, as this is likely to increase recreational dagga usage, dagga drug abuse, dagga drug addiction and consequent irreversible mental illnesses, and loss of productive skills from those dagga addicted compatriots as a country. The families of the dagga addicted individuals and those who eventually fall ill from dagga drug abuse are also negatively affected by their recreational choices.

I must, however, point out that not all of the people who use and abuse the dagga for recreational usage end up being addicted or suffer from mental illnesses. The potential for addiction from illicit drug usage differs from one person to another, and in some cases there are genetic predispositions to addiction, and it is those vulnerable people who must be helped not to fall into a recreational habit that will cause them to fall into a dark hole where there may be no turning back. 

I would have better understood the landmark judgement by Judge Dennis Davies if in the Judgement he had made a distinction between various cannabis/dagga plants. The difference between the various dagga family plants being the level of concentration of the TetraHydroCannabinol (THC), which is the problematic psychoactive and addictive component in cannabis. The dagga or marijuana that is routinely used in South Africa, especially the one that comes from Pondoland in the Eastern Cape contains very high levels of TetraHydoCannabinol (THC), it is very potent, and as such its ability to be addictive and cause mental illness is very high.

Medicinal Benefits of Cannabis (Dagga)

There are other variants of the dagga plants, such as Hemp plant, that contain minimal amounts of THC.  However, there are other more useful active chemical ingredients in some dagga plants like Cannabidiol (CBD), Cannabinol (CBN), Cannabivarin (THCV), Cannabigerol (CBG). In fact, the other active chemical ingredients like CBD have been scientifically proved to be of medical benefit for a variety of medical conditions. There are however a few medical conditions where THC the addictive psychoactive active chemical has been scientifically shown to have medicinal benefits.

The following are some of the medical conditions that have been scientifically found to have benefited from some of the active chemicals from Dagga Usage.

1.       Slows down and stops some cancer cells from spreading
2.       Treats Glaucoma by reducing pressure inside the eyes
3.       Prevents Progression of Alzheimer’s
4.       Relieves Pain and Discomfort In Arthritis
5.       Helps to control epileptic seizures
6.       Reduces pain of multiple sclerosis
7.       Soothes tremors of Parkinson’s disease
8.       Help to reduce symptoms of Crohn’s intestinal disease
9.       Helps to reduce anxiety symptoms
10.   Reduces pain and nausea from chemotherapy
11.   Improves symptoms of Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (SLE) 
12.   Beneficial in people who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
13.   Helps in controlling uncontrollable muscle spasms
14.   Beneficial in the treatment of bowel inflammatory diseases
15.   Helps to eliminate nightmares


As I have already mentioned earlier, in my clinical and consulting practice I have seen the serious and negative impact of indiscriminate dagga abuse as a medical professional yet, on the other hand I have also read a lot of credible scientific literature that shows scientifically proven medical benefits of some of the active chemicals in the dagga plants.

It would make life so easy if the active ingredients within the plants could be isolated, in order that the beneficial chemicals could then be packaged and used appropriately, and the dangerous addictive ones could be tightly controlled in the interests of public health.

In conclusion, the big challenge is that the dagga plants that are used in South Africa contain both the useful and the harmful active chemicals, and how do we as medical doctors advocate for use of the dagga plants that we know contain harmful chemicals? If we do so, are we not violating the Hippocratic Oath that we committed ourselves to when we qualified to be medical practitioners, whose mandate is to heal not kill or harm?

Lawyer Gareth Prince and his Wife Celebrating High Court Judgement





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