Politics / 22 February 2014, 11:58am / Kashiefa Ajam and Sheree Bega
Johannesburg - Cape Town mother Lindsey Martin believes she has quality of life today because of cannabis oil. And she is not alone – there are hundreds, if not thousands, of South Africans who claim that the drug can alleviate the symptoms of cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and depression.
“There is no doubt about it,” said Martin. “My aggressive cancer is gone… the same cancer that was supposed to kill me in months. I am alive today because of cannabis oil.”
Martin, like other cancer survivors, has discovered the apparent benefits of cannabis oil, and is supporting terminally-ill IFP MP Mario Oriano-Ambrosini, who this week admitted to using cannabis oil to treat his late-stage lung cancer.
On Thursday, he tabled his private member’s Medical Innovation Bill, which seeks to make provision for innovation in medical treatment, and to legalise the use of cannabinoids for medical purposes and beneficial commercial and industrial use.
His impassioned plea to Parliament to consider the bill moved some cannabis oil supporters like Martin “to tears”.
Martin’s life changed in 2011 when she was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer. She endured months of chemotherapy and several operations.
“Some people react okay, but most feel the terrible side effects… I honestly can say that it sucked the life out of me
Her doctor told her about cannabis oil. “He said he had done some research outside of his work, and believed in its healing properties, but was not in a position to give it to patients.”
Months later, Martin reported that she was “officially on the cannabis oil” and was feeling fabulous. “I have my life back. No more pain, nausea or bleeding… life is beautiful!”
William Wallace, the operations manager of Fields of Green for All, an NGO affiliated with the Bill, saluted its introduction in Parliament.
“It’s a step in the right direction for South Africans who are in desperate need of accessible and affordable medicine to treat their terminal illness or, at the very least, improve their quality of life.
“Cannabis offers a unique opportunity for us to locally put aside misinformed stigma and instead favour a sensible local cannabis policy that will create job opportunities, reduce the harms of abuse and place South Africa among other world leaders who are adopting constructive policies of legalisation for medical, industrial and recreational use.”
Gerd Bader, of Sundowner, who is wheelchair-bound, told the Saturday Star that cannabis oil had improved his “torturous” multiple sclerosis.
“I was in a wheelchair for 12 years. I was losing consciousness and was close to death,” he said. “Then, two years ago, I discovered the oil and I have no more symptoms of MS. I can now even walk a few steps in the mornings.”
Cannabis oil is easily available online.
The Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) said it supported the development of the oil as a medicine, if it was registered with the Medicines Control Council (MCC).
“If it’s just raw, street dagga, we can’t condone that being made generally available,” said Dr Carl Albrecht, the head of research.
“There are good studies which show people who smoke a lot of dagga get more lung cancer than people who smoke cigarettes… But you don’t smoke the oil and there are also suppositories containing the oil… They should make it a prescription drug as cheaply as possible.”
But he told the Saturday Star that there was no reputable scientific literature that supported a claim that cannabis use could cure cancer.
“In most countries, dagga is illegal… and that puts on the brakes (on research)… They could run research at medical schools that are interested to find out if it’s really working. Maybe it (the oil) needs some help from radiotherapy.”
At any time, there were more than 100 000 cancer patients. “A lot of them are fighting a desperate battle and will read anything if it looks like a ray of hope,” he said.
Sasha Dowding, the chief communications officer at NORML SA, which advocates for the legalisation of cannabis, said it was time the health profession “seriously looked into medical marijuana as an effective, low-cost and 100 percent natural treatment”.
But groups like Doctors for Life and the ACDP believe that legalising cannabis will worsen the drug problem.