If the word cannabis still brings to mind blunts and laced brownies, girl, catch up! In 2019, there’s far more to weed than getting stuck on your couch with the munchies. In fact, today’s hottest pot products don’t even get you high. But they do claim to slay stress and anxiety, relieve headaches, ease period cramps, soothe skin, improve sleep and turbocharge your orgasms. And all with no smoke involved. Instead, you can simply rub on a body oil or moisturiser, or sip a spiked tea.
So what’s the secret ingredient? Cannabidiol, or CBD, the second most abundant chemical found in marijuana plants. Because it lacks the psychoactive properties of tetrahydrocannabinol (aka THC), CBD isn’t intoxicating. Research shows that it might, however, boost your mental and physical wellbeing, says researcher Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. While THC activates cannabinoid receptors that alter the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, CBD seems to increase levels of your body’s natural cannabinoid-like compounds, which may help relieve anxiety, regulate chronic pain and reduce inflammation.
As a result CBD is now being touted as a potential treatment for everything from puffy skin to epilepsy. Maybe that’s why more and more people are ‘using’. In March 2018, Googleshopping searches for CBD oil reached an all-time high, and experts estimate that the new CBD industry could be worth a massive R30-billion by 2020.
Before you start slathering yourself with CBD-infused balms and tossing your salad with CBD dressing, remember that this seemingly magical stuff occupies a legal grey area. That being said, you can already buy CBD goods from online stores and some brick-and-mortar shops.
Ralph Higgo, a South African medical-cannabis consultant, says that sellers are required to have a licence to sell products that contain this magical compound. ‘CBD was gazetted to be a Schedule Four substance by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority – SAHPRA – which means that it should be available only on prescription and dispensed at pharmacy level, and manufacturers need to apply for a licence in order to grow and dispense it,’ he explains. ‘There are two licences that are pending, but nothing has been granted the official go-ahead just yet. Otherwise it remains a legal matter that needs clarification, but CBD oil is still available on the shelves.’
This means you can rest easy (or apply liberally), because the likelihood of the law coming after you for that CBD lip balm is practically zilch.
The bigger problem is that reefer retail has no regulator to monitor what goes into CBD products. ‘It’s the Wild West out there,’ says Bonn-Miller, who in
2017 tested 84 CBD products and found that 26% contained less CBD than they claimed, while 42% had more. That figure might sound scary, but Bonn-Miller says high levels aren’t known to be dangerous. Levels that are too low can, however, make a product ineffective. (And 21% of the CBD products also contained THC, which can make you high and show up on drug tests.)
Currently there are no SAHPRA-approved CBD or THC products besides Marinol or Dronabinol,a synthetic form of THC, which is also available only via prescription and with an approved application form, says Higgo. This means that buyers won’t know if their purchase is legit.
Another thing to consider is the legal status. ‘The recent Constitutional Court judgment did not strike down the portions of the Drugs Act and Medicines Act related to dealing in cannabis,’ says Paul-Michael Keichel of Schindlers Attorneys, the only law firm in South Africa with a department dedicated to the legalities surrounding cannabis. ‘While it may be arguable that only the dealer (and not the buyer) commits a crime, caution is advised, so that you do not land in trouble with the police and prosecutors.’
And what about the health risks associated with buying unregulated products? ‘The danger,’ says Keichel, ‘is that it would not necessarily be of a standard that would enable the SA Pharmacy Council, along with SAHPRA, to register it as a medicine, with all the concomitant quality-control measures. The buyer does not know what they are getting – it really is a roll of the dice.’ ■
This isn’t your granny’s ganja