The pending legalisation of access to medical cannabinoids [or cannabis] in South Africa is opening up a host of research opportunities that the medical sector should embrace, City Buzz reports.
This is according to Dr Sean Chetty, deputy head of anaesthesiology and critical care at the University of Stellenbosch.
Chetty said a combination of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), two of the active components in cannabis, may offer new ways to alleviate suffering as a result of certain neurological conditions. “The effects of cannabinoids on the body’s nervous system have already been documented, and the fact that it can alleviate certain kinds of pain and stimulate appetite have already been proven.
“What we need to do now is explore the possible applications that THC and CBD may have in treating and managing the symptoms of certain conditions. I believe that it is important for the medical community to start changing its mindset regarding this controversial substance so that in-depth studies can take place.”
Wouter Lombard, brand manager of neuropsychiatry at Cipla, a global pharmaceutical company, agrees that the opportunity to research the possible applications of cannabis in the medical field should be taken as soon as it becomes viable.
In March last year, the Western Cape High Court gave Parliament two years to rectify the laws and this has opened possibilities for legislation allowing the cultivation and use of medical cannabis, among others.
“Throughout the human body, there are cannabinoid receptors which are involved in a variety of physiological processes, including appetite, pain sensation, mood and memory,” explained Chetty.
“These receptors are activated by cannabinoids generated naturally in the body, as well as by substances such as THC and CBD, which stimulate the body’s receptors.”
The doctor noted that in the case of multiple sclerosis, it is understood that there is no real cure for the condition, but doctors should be looking for better ways to manage the symptoms.
There are, however, several major drawbacks to using THC in its natural form, and Chetty said he sees a number of challenges with so-called ‘medical marijuana’ at the moment, which means that he cannot advocate its use as medicine.
The first problem has to do with consistency, said Chetty, adding that various strains of cannabis have various levels of active components and before the medical community even considers prescribing cannabinoids as a treatment, there should be controls in place to ensure that the patient receives the correct doses and quality.
“The side effects of THC use have also been documented, and include depression, paranoia and problems related to long-term memory. The possible side effects of the other chemicals found in cannabis in its natural form also need to be taken into account.”
If cannabis is correctly administered to a patient, as doctors, they cannot recommend that patients smoke it.
“I believe that the medical community is still a long way away from being able to ethically prescribe and administer cannabis,” Chetty concluded.
Details: Cipla 021 439 8008; www.cipla.co.za