Med­i­cal dagga of­fers al­ter­na­tive

CityPress - - Voices - Gar­reth van Niek­erk voices@city­press.co.za

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.

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