Medical dagga offers alternative
It still seems like a pipe dream – something that could have got lost in years of bureaucratic red tape, tender fraud and religious superstition – but last week thousands of South Africans exhaled an emotional breath of relief when government announced that it had begun the process of regulating medical cannabis for prescribed health conditions.
As a person who has spent years trying to balance my, at times, intense epilepsy medication with the challenges of work, life and everything in between, the promise of an alternative to the heavy chemical burden is like an early Christmas gift. Now I may have another option – a way out of the lamotrigine daze that has marked the days of my life. But am I ready to commit? Yes, I have spoken to doctors, professors and growers. I’ve attended rallies, read journals and watched pretty much every documentary made about the subject. I have personally written – quite publicly – about my support for the movement. Yet, now that the day is coming, I worry about actually committing to it, and I don’t think I’m alone. What if we should have waited for larger, more thorough clinical trials? What if I commit and then one day, while doing something innocuous like driving, or carrying a child, or (for some reason) operating a fork lift, I have a seizure and not only put my own life at risk, but someone else’s too?
In September, the results of the largest medical marijuana trial so far conducted were released. For more than 12 weeks, the open trial replaced the antiepileptic medication of 162 patients aged between one and 30 with a maximum dose of 50mg of cannabidiol. The trial found that cannabidiol, in a controlled environment, reduced seizures at a rate similar to existing drugs.
But only 162 trial patients? About one in every 100 South Africans have the disorder. Is this enough evidence to put my life on the line?
The trial, crucially, was undertaken for epileptics who are resistant to treatment. This is almost one in every three people diagnosed with epilepsy, the report states. For them, there is no alternative – it is cannabidiol or endless, debilitating seizures. Watching videos of their testimonies this week, I felt so selfish; so out of touch with a world so far beyond mine.
If it is at all possible to help someone – many of them children who will never be able to live an independent life – with a sip of a tincture produced from a plant anyone could grow for free in their own garden, then millions of lives could be changed.
It could also be used to treat bipolar disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
South Africans deserve alternative options. If marijuana is one of them, let’s commit.