Pubdate: Sat, 16 Jul 2016
Source: Star, The (South Africa)
Copyright: Independent Newspapers 2016
Author: Sheree Bega


Severely Ill Patients Vouch for Medicinal Benefits of Dagga Oil

AS A mother, Veronica Ellis would do anything to help her 
eight-year-old child, even if it meant the unthinkable: giving her a 
small daily dose of a forbidden drug. But she could no longer watch 
her once-radiant daughter, now a hollow skeleton, slipping away.

"What convinced me was looking at Bayleigh, lying all day on a 
mattress here in front of the TV," says Ellis, a small-framed, 
resolute mother of three. "She was so tired, she just didn't want to 
get up. Her face was white, she had black rings under her eyes. She 
wouldn't eat anything. She lost 1kg in a week."

In February, Bayleigh, an active, sporty child, fell mysteriously 
ill, a week into Grade 3. Doctors in Durban, where the family live, 
discovered she had a rare, malignant brain tumour the size of a golf 
ball growing on her fourth ventricle.

It was removed, but after months of gruelling radiation and 
chemotherapy at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Joburg, 
Bayleigh had a "bad bout of chemo" a few weeks ago. "She became 
shockingly ill," says her mother. "Her counts and platelets were 
extremely low."

A friend reminded Ellis of the aptly named Bobby Greenhash 
Foundation, which supplies medical grade cannabis to users around the 
world. Low in THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol - the chemical extracts 
that make people stoned - it's high in cannabidiol, a compound with 
reported therapeutic benefits.

The foundation sent Ellis a free bottle. "I prayed long and hard 
about it," she says. "I grew up in a Christian home and this is 
taboo...As a mom you're very scared because you hear all these things 
about the side-effects of dagga. But I knew it couldn't make her any worse."

Every day, three times a day, she puts a few drops into Bayleigh's 
yoghurt to mask the taste that at first made her child retch. "It's 
only been two weeks, but it's amazing," says Ellis, smiling as she 
watches her daughter draw pictures of her favourite Frozen characters 
in their rented Benoni home, where they have temporarily relocated. 
"She would never have sat up and drawn a few weeks ago. Now she's 
doing her homework.

"My happy pumpkin has come back to life. She has colour in her face, 
the black rings are gone. There's such an impressive improvement in 
her eating, the shakes in her right hand have vanished. She is 
smiling and happy again."

Ellis is one of a fast-growing group of South Africans going 
underground to illicitly acquire cannabis oil to treat debilitating 
chronic medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, Crohn's 
disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease and to manage chronic pain.

Marijuana enthusiast Sheldon Cramer, who started the Bobby Greenhash 
Foundation, which he describes as a humanitarian organisation, claims 
he supplies medical cannabis oil to over 4 000 "patients" in South 
Africa. "Demand is increasing exponentially because cannabis oil 
works," says Cramer, who has been dubbed the Robin Hood of cannabis 
oil. "It cures people."

Science has shown the human body is hard-wired for cannabis, which is 
not a drug, but rather "a plant with curative properties", he says. 
"Dagga has so much potential but governments have been keeping it 
under prohibition for decades to protect the interests of big 
corporates, like pharmaceutical companies."

Two years ago, the case for medical marijuana was championed by the 
now-deceased IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini. He revealed in Parliament 
he had been using cannabis oil to treat his lung cancer.

He introduced the Medical Innovation Bill, advocating its legal use, 
before Parliament, which lit up a controversial debate over dagga use 
and its medical properties across South Africa. In May, the Central 
Drug Authority recommended an "immediate focus" on decriminalising 
dagga, but recommended far more be done before a legal medical 
marijuana industry is created.

For Cramer, it's high time. "Decriminalisation is really the first 
step, but it doesn't make it legal. That's not something that will 
happen overnight."

The World Health Organisation, in a discussion on cannabis in 
December, warns that "especially for psychoactive drugs such as 
cannabis, rigorous criteria for its approval as a safe and 
cost-effective medicine needs to be fulfilled" to weigh "its 
therapeutic potential alongside its detrimental effects".

Kathleen Browne, 50, who lives in a small Mpumalanga town, doesn't 
doubt the benefits. A year ago Browne, who has multiple sclerosis, 
couldn't get out of bed, feed herself or even hold a cup until she 
started taking cannabis oil.

"I'm not lying, six weeks after taking my oil every day, I managed to 
walk to town, which is 5km away, without an ache or a pain. I've 
never looked back," says the accountant.

"But when you tell people about cannabis, there's a stigma attached. 
I'm scared I'm going to be arrested for possessing an illegal drug."

Pretoria grandmother Trudi de Lange agrees. "I had a couple of 
strokes, lupus, fibromyalgia and without this miracle oil, I cannot 
walk. My pain is much better. God created this plant to heal us."

In Boksburg, 42-year-old Mark Immelman* claims cannabis oil sped up 
his remission process for Crohn's disease while a mother, who does 
not want to be named, says she uses cannabis oil to control her son's 
allergies and ADHD.

"We've noticed a drastic change in his behaviour, his allergies are 
better and his concentration has improved immensely."

Activists maintain the Department of Health and the Medicines Control 
Council (MCC) have never granted permission to use cannabis for 
medical reasons. It's a "dead end" process to even apply, insists 
Cramer. "I tell my patients, to hell with the bureaucracy and the 
"bulls ... By the time people come to us, they've exhausted most 
conventional methods for treatment and are sent home to die. To them, 
the fear of death is greater than the fear of breaking the law."

But Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says only seven people have 
applied to the MCC to legally use dagga as medicine since 2008.

"I hear a lot of discussion and debate about the medical uses of 
dagga but no real action where people are coming forward to say 'we 
really want it'. If it's true there are medicinal properties, apply."

With the boom in cannabis concentrates and oils, charlatans are 
"running rampant" selling dodgy cannabis oil to vulnerable South 
Africans, warns one local pro-cannabis website.

As long as cannabis oil is illegal, "neither you nor your dealer will 
have any idea of what exactly is in those few grams or mililitres of 
cannabis oil you've just paid so handsomely for ... It's the Wild 
west out there".

Myrtle Clarke, of the Fields of Green For All movement, who with her 
partner Julian Stobbs is South Africa's famous Dagga Couple who are 
fighting the authorities, says the harm of prohibition far outweigh 
the perceived harm of the plant.

But Professor Charles Parry, the director of the alcohol, tobacco and 
other drug research unit at the Medical Research Council, believes 
it's important to separate the demand for medicinal cannabis and the 
call for full legalisation that would allow recreational use. Linking 
the two is likely to hinder getting medicinal cannabis into the 
mainstream in South Africa. "Some within the health portfolio 
committee in Parliament confuse the two and oppose medicinal cannabis 
because it could be seen as giving out a confusing message about 
recreational use (especially to adolescents).

"There have been some positive results of cannabinoids on 
slowing/stopping tumour growth at a cellular level and in mice, 
but... few human trials on this have been published. The jury is 
still out, but this is certainly an area where more research is needed."

*Not his real name
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom