Durban - Changing the stigma attached to the world’s most misunderstood plant was a dream cannabis activist Krithi Thaver never thought would be realised so quickly.
But once news of Africa’s first medicinal cannabis dispensary spread, Thaver, the founder of Canna Culture and chairperson of the KZN branch of the Cannabis Development Council of SA (CDCSA), was inundated with calls, especially from the Indian community, for the alternate health care.
“Breaking into the Indian community was tough. It was seen as a recreational drug, but this is slowly changing,” said the 33-year-old Westville resident.
The Holistic Relief Wellness and Pain Management Centre is said to be the first in Africa and provides cannabis and ayurvedic oils as an alternative health-care treatment to at least 19 illnesses, including lung and liver cancer.
The centre is based at Old North Coast Road and is by appointment only.
Thaver said patients could consult a GP, chiropractor, homeopath or traditional healer at the centre.
“Once diagnosis is given, the patient will go to the dispensary and be issued a dosage.
"Treatment will commence and progress would be monitored.”
Thaver made it clear that the oils were not quick fixes.
“A controlled diet regime must be followed. People cannot expect results overnight.”
He blamed the internet for misplaced beliefs, and cautioned the public to stay away from ‘snake oil videos’.
“These snake oils are normally made at home, and while it might help with your illness, other more dangerous side effects may arise.”
He said oils dispensed from the centre were imported from the United States to ensure quality was maintained.
“South Africa is restricted with testing and manufacturing equipment and we need to ensure our oils are tested effectively.
“This is being done by doctors in the US, who ensure the relevant regulations are followed.”
Only one element of cannabis is legal in SA - cannabidiol (CBD), which is found in the hemp plant.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), another compound in the cannabis plant, known to give users the famous high, is not legal, he said.
“We are therefore only dispensing CBD products until talks with the government are finalised. Our negotiations at the moment are to allow government to see the scientific benefits behind both CBD and THC.”
Thaver confirmed that the centre was ready should the government give the green light.
“We would then be open to treating an added range of conditions once we are allowed to dispense more products.”
He said legalising cannabis would not result in people lighting up joints everywhere and anywhere.
“Through a controlled regulatory process, we can give people an option to treat themselves with non-toxic medication without having to fork out thousands in expenses.”
A wellness product could cost as little as R400, said Thaver.
The centre’s official launch will take place on June 1, and a host of government officials have been invited.
“They want to be part of this, to actually see and have a look at a model that can work to alleviate the current health-care conditions or problems the department is faced with.”
Musician and former Idols SA contestant Kyle Deutsch, who described the initiative as medically cutting-edge, confirmed that he would be the in-house chiropractor.
“The aim is to steer clear of the stigma attached to the misuse of dagga and the centre strives to holistically do just that.”
The Holistic Relief Wellness and Pain Management Centre is the brainchild of four Durban friends-turned-investment-partners - Mike Catarino, Kearshan Govender, Semeshen Chetty and Thaver.
Former Johannesburg resident Catarino, 25, who moved to Durban in February, uses the products for back relief.
“I was involved in a car accident some time ago and suffered with severe back pains. I started using the cannabis oil and wanted to help others correctly use the product.”
Chetty, 27, of Newlands West, said he was excited about the new venture despite having family who viewed cannabis with disdain.
“They never understood the product until recently.
“My mother has diabetes, and since news spread about the benefits of cannabis, she has been keen to try some.”
Govender, 23, of Reservoir Hills, who has been working at Canna Culture for a year, is the digital guru behind the project.
“My vision is for the centre to dispel myths and break the associated stigma.
“People must feel free and not feel like they will be discriminated against once they become patients.”
Marley Coffee, cannabis beer and edibles, also known as ‘medibles’, will be sold at the centre’s café.