Defend Truth


Healing illegally: The journey of medical cannabis


Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of Cosatu, a former minister in the Nelson Mandela government and is a board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

I understand now the conspiracy of silence around health issues affecting women. Why don’t we talk about a debilitating illness that affects half the world’s population? Why are we so eager to invest billions into male impotence, but stay quiet on menopause?

My life changed the day my wife had a cannabis muffin. It was my 60th birthday, and a friend of ours had brought pot muffins instead of the traditional bottle of wine or champagne.

My wife has been suffering from a very rare and potentially fatal form of menopause — hot flushes every 20 minutes, 24/7, so powerful she often vomited. I once took her to hospital after she had spent 116 hours awake and lost 4.5kg in those five days. I sometimes had to wring the sheets in the morning because she would lose so much water at night because of her sweats. She had been taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy) but the oncologist asked her to stop because suspicious activity had been noticed on her ovaries.

These hormones might kill you,” said the oncologist.

She tried every other cure — homoeopathy, Chinese herbs, meditation, diet change. Nothing worked. She gobbled down so many tablets — for anxiety, nausea, insomnia, depression. But the meds just made her like a zombie. She wasn’t functioning. She had no life. I was devastated and helpless.

I understand now the conspiracy of silence around health issues affecting women. Why don’t we talk about a debilitating illness that affects half the world population? Why are we so eager to invest billions into male impotence but stay quiet on menopause?

On 20 December 2014, my 60th birthday, her life changed. And mine. After eating her pot muffin, around 7 pm, she had a beautiful evening, dancing away and chatting. She said she didn’t feel any different, no buzzing effect. We went to bed at midnight. In the morning I was surprised. Lucie had slept through the night. No hot flushes. No soaking sheets. Our friend had left her five muffins. Lucie took one a night. She was symptom-free for five days. On the sixth night, bang! Full blown menopause.

As an internationally renowned journalist and author, although she had doubts, Lucie began to do her research. She would find proper scientific research and say, no, it can’t be. And then another one and another one. Then she started meeting patients that are alive today because of medical cannabis oil.

She joined one of the underground groups at the invitation of her friend who has a son with Dravet syndrome. From hundreds of epileptic fits a day, he had come down to one or two a month. In this group, people were treating themselves for Parkinsons, Alzheimers, depression, anxiety, autism, anorexia, glaucoma, diabetes, ADHD, Crohn’s disease, lupus, PTSD, osteoporosis, epilepsy, cancer and so much more.

Lucie discovered that we have been using hemp and cannabis for thousands of years. A 26,000-year-old hemp rope has been found in China. Proof of the plant being used as medicine dates back 12,000 years and an ancient Chinese notebook was found containing the details of the benefits and effects of cannabis on our health.

Every part of the plant is used: Flower, leaves, stem, seed, pulp, fibre, root and oil. It can be used to produce textiles, paper, ropes, carpets, clothes, insulation material, fine quality paper, cement, alternatives to fibreglass, seasonings, margarine, food supplements, oil for cooking, paint, varnish, ink, clothes, nappies, shoes, soap, shampoo, creams, food for birds and animals, and, of course, medicines.

It’s actually one of the most important ancient traditional medicines the planet has. It arrived in western medicine in the 19th century and was widely used in the official pharmacopoeia for more than a century.

So what happened? The witch-hunt started at the beginning of the 20th century. And it all started here, in South Africa, which was the first country in the world to ban cannabis in 1911. Then Jamaica. Both countries were under racist regimes which argued that cannabis made black people lazy. In the US, the war against cannabis became intense. During the Mexican Revolution, a number of Mexicans fled to the US and brought the plant with them, which they used for all kinds of reasons, including relaxing after a long day of work. Americans started speaking of the “marijuana threat”, and of the “Mexican threat.”

Texas was the first US state to criminalise pot in 1914, and a legislator even said:

All Mexicans are crazy, and one of the reasons is because of this plant.”

In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was created and its director, Harry Anslinger, was the father of the war on pot. He said that most marijuana smokers were Africans, Hispanics and artists. And that the satanic jazz music resulted from the consumption of marijuana and that its consumption made the “coloured” think they were as good as white people.

To demonise the plant, Anslinger was helped by the press tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who practiced yellow journalism with pot. To pass the famous law against marijuana in 1937, Anslinger and Hearst opened a case saying that pot was more dangerous than heroin and cocaine and that it could lead to communist brainwashing. The arguments of Anslinger and company were rejected by The Journal of the American Medical Association. The other reason for cannabis and hemp’s demonisation is that the industry competed with the paper pulp used for the newspaper industry. It was also competing with nylon and lumber.

Later, President Nixon passed a law in 1970 which classified drugs according to their danger. Cannabis was classified as Schedule 1, with no medicinal properties and very high danger of abuse.

The medical sector in the US did not agree, so Nixon himself established the Shafer Commission to examine this. The commission acknowledged that marijuana should not be classified in the first category. It even doubted its designation as an illegal substance. But Nixon and then Reagan ignored the recommendations and intensified the war on cannabis, the reasons for which can be summarised in a few words — racism, fear, protection of corporate profits, ignorance, corruption and greed. Money, not health, drives the health care industry. Actually, the plant has been illegal for less than 1% of the time it’s been used.

In 1964, a Jerusalem scientist by the name of Dr Raphael Mechoulam discovered THC, one of the 100 or so cannabinoids found in the plant, and the one responsible for the “high”. Thirty years later, in 1992, he and his team discovered its endogenous equivalent, the endocannabinoid system which is part of our immune system. In other words, we produce our own THC. The endocannabinoid system plays a role in our sleep, appetite, digestion, moods, motor functions, immune functions, our reproduction, fertility, pleasure, memory, regulation of temperature, pain. And when this system is disrupted, diseases arise. Why, 30 years later, have we not yet included the study of the endocannabinoid system in official medicine courses?

Israel is the world leader in cannabis studies. Dr Dedi Meiri, director of the biggest cannabis lab in the world, was explaining recently that he is studying 550 kinds of cannabis.

Does cannabis kill cancer? Yes! But the question is to know which kind of cannabis kills which kind of cancer.”

The research is clear: Cannabis is an extremely important medicinal plant that can alleviate, heal or cure hundreds of symptoms and diseases.

The empirical evidence is growing. The news is spreading. Around the world governments, doctors and most importantly people are demanding a choice in how they want to heal. Our SA universities can become centres of excellence in the study and research into health products from cannabis. We could become the global laboratory of medical cannabis, given the extent and quality of the plant in southern Africa.

Another ignored fact is that cannabis has been an essential indigenous and sacred medicinal plant in the pharmacy of thousands of traditional healers in SA. It is also estimated that more than half a million growers in our most impoverished rural communities have been growing cannabis for hundreds of years and support millions of their dependents with these incomes.

This could be one of the most radical transformations of rural economies in our history if we consult these custodians of the cannabis plant and integrate the policy and legal processes in order to primarily benefit these communities.

Clearly, as we decriminalise the use of cannabis, we need to agree about the rules and public policy regulations. As with any product, there will be abuse. Alcohol, which according to the WHO causes 2.5 million deaths a year globally, destroys lives, families and communities, which doesn’t cure any disease, is legal. Same thing for tobacco, which is responsible for more than six million deaths a year. And cannabis? There is no evidence that cannabis has ever directly killed anyone.

In Québec, Lucie is a registered legal medical cannabis patient. After four years on cannabis oil, she not only brought her menopause under control but has also seen dramatic improvements to her bone density. She is no longer in the danger zone for osteoporosis. And her doctor is amazed at her health indicators.

Whatever you are doing, continue!” he said. And she is off all synthetic big pharma medication.

Lucie has done a two-year research on cannabis and wrote a book on it, Sex, Pot and Politics”. Well, it’s not an essay on cannabis, but a political satire. She had been collecting the inanities of politicians and decided to write a book where cannabis has a central role. It is an absolutely hilarious story. She has gone head-on into this because she says:

It’s not right that we have to choose between suffering and dying or going to jail. I rather heal illegally than die legally.”

The fight to legalise and integrate medical cannabis in our official pharmacopeia is a fight for our right to health as enshrined in the International Declaration of Human Rights.

If I have a wife who is healthy and well today, I have medical cannabis to thank. I am deeply grateful to those who swim against the current of prejudice and stigma, such as eminent jurists, Judge Dennis Davis, Deputy Chief Justice Ray Zondo in the recent Constitutional Court judgment and so many valiant journalists, users, advocacy groups, traditional healers and growers who continue to fight for this indigenous medicinal plant and the choice over how we want to heal ourselves. DM


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