Guatemalan murder accused Diego Novella appears in court. Picture: Courtney Africa/ANA Pictures

Cape Town - A toxicology expert has told the Western Cape High Court that Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the main psychoactive component in cannabis, can be found in hemp oil.

Defence lawyer William Booth told the court that Guatemalan murder accused Diego Novella would not have known when buying hemp oil that it contained THC and could potentially have a "psychotic effect". 

But, Jaco van Zyl, the chief forensic analyst from the department of health in Cape Town, told the court that it contains less than 0,3% of THC: "The THC content is so low it won't make you high even if you use it as a massage oil".

Van Zyl is testifying in the trial against Novella who has been accused of murdering his American marketing executive girlfriend Gabriela Kabrins Alban. 

Her body was discovered in the room she was sharing with Novella at an upmarket boutique hotel in Camps Bay on July 29, 2015. She had been strangled and had suffered blunt force trauma. 

Her face was covered with chips and faeces and a note had been left on her body with the Spanish word “cerote” scrawled on it, which means piece of s***. A fingerprint expert has testified that Novella’s fingerprint was found on the note. 

Novella was arrested on the same day, a few hours after hotel staff found Alban’s body.

He has pleaded not guilty. 

In his plea statement, Novella, who is from a prominent and wealthy family in Guatemala, claimed he had been in an abnormal mental state after having taken hallucinogenic substances.

These were listed as sceletium, dronabinol (a prescription drug) sometimes taken to treat cancer, and cannabis. “These substances had a disinhibiting effect on me, causing me to respond in an abnormal manner.” 

Last week, Van Zyl told the court that "no drugs of abuse" were found in Alban's body. He analysed samples taken from her urine, blood, stomach contents and bile. He said pharmaceutical drugs such as codeine were, however, found in some of the samples.

Alban had been taking a variety of pain medication to treat Lyme disease. She had arrived in South Africa in July 2015 to join Novella who had arranged treatment for her. He had attended a seven-day cleansing programme at a Magaliesberg spiritual retreat several weeks before the murder, where he had taken the psychoactive drug Ibogaine.

He had planned to take Alban there as he believed the treatment would help cure her illness, but she died shortly before they were due to depart for the retreat.