Pubdate: Thu, 14 Jul 2016
Source: Witness, The (South Africa)
Copyright: 2016 The Witness.
Author: Alwyn Viljoen


WHILE the latest research on cannabis confirms anecdotes that weed 
slows and even removes Alzheimer's, the dagga couple of SA still have 
a long fight to change the illegal status of the drug in South Africa.

On their non-profit organisation website, Fields of Green for All, 
the infamous dagga couple, Julian Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke, said 
their case will finally come to court on July 31, 2017. And after all 
their effort to get there, the Pretoria high court will have to 
escalate the questions raised on the constitutionality of being 
arrested for possessing dagga to the Constitutional Court. The couple 
have also sued seven South African government departments on charges 
of enacting unlawful laws.

KZN-based Cannabis Community and Regulatory Authority's (Saccra) 
Janet O'Donoghue said much rides on the case, with South Africa's 
traditional and self-medicating markets waiting to have arrests 
stopped, especially for possession, as well as other legislation 
changed to allow the medicinal use of cannabis. The dagga couple said 
the police waste a staggering amount of money on dagga cases each 
year. On their website, they cite SA Police statistics from 2014, 
which show that R43 784 664 000 was spent on arresting and 
unsuccessfully trying to convict 182 436 people - an average of 507 
people a day - for possessing weed.

While they are trying to change the law that causes this waste, 
O'Donoghue advised anyone arrested for possession to be calm and 
polite, plead not guilty, quote the dagga couple's case, and then ask 
the warrant officer for police bail.

"Then the worst that can happen is the case will be remanded to the 
high court and become part of the dagga couple's queue." Ironically, 
dagga was not just legal pre-1906, but Dutch colonial laws could see 
one jailed for not growing marijuana to supply fibre for hemp.

The wheel has turned full circle since the banning of marijuana as a 
dangerous substance in California, and more laboratories are now 
confirming the plant's vital properties for the human body and mind.

The latest such study by the Salk Institute found 
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds found in marijuana can 
promote the cellular removal of amyloid beta, a toxic protein 
associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia and its 
incidence is expected to triple during the next 50 years.

"While these exploratory studies were conducted in neurons grown in 
the laboratory, they may offer insight into the role of inflammation 
in Alzheimer's disease and could provide clues to developing novel 
therapeutics for the disorder," said Salk's Professor David Schubert, 
the senior author of the study, in a statement.

"Although other studies have offered evidence that cannabinoids might 
be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer's, we believe 
our study is the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both 
inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells," said 
Schubert. In a manuscript published in June 2016's Aging and 
Mechanisms of Disease, the Salk team also studied nerve cells altered 
to produce high levels of amyloid beta to mimic aspects of Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers demonstrated that exposing the cells to THC reduced 
amyloid beta protein levels and eliminated the inflammatory response 
from the nerve cells caused by the protein, thereby allowing the 
nerve cells to survive.

"Inflammation within the brain is a major component of the damage 
associated with Alzheimer's disease, but it has always been assumed 
that this response was coming from immune-like cells in the brain, 
not the nerve cells themselves," said Antonio Currais, a postdoctoral 
researcher in Schubert's laboratory and first author of the paper.

"When we were able to identify the molecular basis of the 
inflammatory response to amyloid beta, it became clear that THC-like 
compounds that the nerve cells make themselves may be involved in 
protecting the cells from dying."

Brain cells have switches known as receptors that can be activated by 
endocannabinoids, a class of lipid molecules made by the body that 
are used for intercellular signalling in the brain.

Schubert emphasised that his team's findings were conducted in 
exploratory laboratory models, and that the use of THC-like compounds 
as a therapy would need to be tested in clinical trials.

The study was supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, 
The Burns Foundation and The Bundy Foundation. Back in Cato Ridge, 
O'Donoghue pointed out that the current Medicines and Related 
Substances Amendment Act of 2015 subtly prohibits even telling people 
of any of the above.

"The act gives a very broad definition for medicine as any substance 
that heals or prevents ill health in humans or animals, and the 
spirit of this act is that only qualified doctors are allowed to 
discuss 'medicine' with their patients.

"In terms of the context of this definition in the act, even water, 
which certainly prevents ill health in humans or animals, can qualify 
as medicine, and in the current context of the law we cannot tell 
each other about it.

"There is still a lot to fix in our legal system to free up 
traditional healing and self-medication," O'Donoghue said.

The dagga couple are less diplomatic. "Cannabis prohibition is an 
unlawful and racist law and we are taking it all the way to the 
Constitutional Court.

"We intend taking our case all the way to the International Court of 
Human Rights - taking every government in the world to task on this 
issue - so this plant never has to be put on trial again, anywhere in 
the world," the couple state on their website.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom