Coming on the back of widespread discussion, government has recently approved the production of cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, for medicinal purposes. While the drug has conventionally been used as a recreational drug, in a climate of overwhelming drug abuse within the country, the medicinal usage of the plant has for years been noted, particularly in the treatment of various cancers. Despite the move hailed a major victory for some, groups such as the South African Anti- Drug Alliance has sighted the need for public and professional awareness on the issue.
To unpack the pros and cons of its use, Unani Tibb Medicine Practitioner, Dr Faeeza Abdulatief, discusses the role of cannabis with the natural health fraternity.
Abdulatief explains that while there is controversy surrounding the use of cannabis, the use of cannabis for medical purposes was initiated by the Inkatha Freedom Party’s previous MP, Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, who spoke to the medical advantages of cannabis oils use in treating ailments.
She says that if cannabis is to be legalised, patients will be provided with access to what many describe as the healing properties of cannabis.
“So the access to natural treatment, alternative to what is currently available, would then open up more doors for patients,” she stated.
Commenting on the reported benefits of cannabis, Abdulatief asserts that the plant used in a medical capacity acts a “powerful” pain reliever, relief’s side-effects of cancer treatment, and relieves anxiety and stress.
She, however, notes that cannabis is dosage-dependent and should, therefore, be used within a controlled environment.
“It can have one effect in a small dose and have an opposing effect in a large dose. Therefore, it should be controlled in terms of who is prescribing and having access to this medication in order for it to be used for medicinal value and for it not to be abused.”
While cannabis is known to have side-effects, Abdulatief says that numerous everyday products also have hallucinogenic properties when used in large quantities, including the popular spice, nutmeg.
“Other things like, lavender and camomile are also sedatives. Obviously, the effects might be milder in those cases, and that’s why we have to look at how detrimental the dosage is on the patient,” she noted.
Abdulatief further states that when assessing the two conventional methods for the administration of cannabis, the two main methods is through smoking and the use of the oil extracted from the plant.
In comparing the two uses, she asserts that the use of the oil would be “more beneficial” and “less detrimental” than smoking the herb itself.
“The conventional way is smoking; when you are smoking you introduce a lot of other toxins into your body when burning the herb itself. So we produce carcinogens and tars by burning the herb at high temperatures.”
As a natural medicine practitioner, she adds that anyone who is prescribing the drug would require the correct training to prescribe cannabis in order to ensure that the correct dosage is administered.
Given the fact that there is no regulation of the growing of cannabis with South Africa, in terms of pesticides and other contamination concerns, users are not provided with a guarantee on the quality of the product that they are currently accessing.
Abdulatief, therefore, encourages consumers to make the distinction between the two most popular uses of cannabis and to use it responsibly.
“Cannabis was around for thousands of years and it has been in the pharmacopeia for the use of more than a hundred separate illnesses. But in 1971, it was taken away due to the war on drugs and that affected the use of cannabis medicinally.”
What does Islam say?
Medical doctor and exco member of the Muslim Judicial Council, Dr Yusuf Arieff explains that there does exist a misnomer with regard to the government’s choice to address the issue of cannabis, and that the current discussion relates not to a abroad based legalisation of its use, but instead relates to the medicinal and controlled usage of the plant in its medical form.
He says that once a well-regulated medicinal cannabis product is produced, which has undergone clinical controls then the use of cannabis will be considered in a different light within the context of Islam.
“In that scenario we will have to look at the possibility of permissibility. If we look at every single product we will have to be weighed on its own credit Islamically.”
With regards to similar rulings, Arieff notes that fuqaha who have contributed to this field of science, have stipulated five categories that would need to be fulfilled in order for the product to be regarded as permissible.
• The first is that of ‘dharurah’, absolutely necessity, where the illness of the patient warrants the use of the product.
• The second category relates to clinical controls that have proven that the product is of benefit.
• While the third category requires that the minimum amount of the product is used, therefore, ensuring that overdosing and harm to the user is prevented.
• The fourth category relates to the assessing of safer options that does not provide room for intoxication.
• While the final category relates to the fact that Islam requires that the use of a product does not cause more harm through its use.
“So if a person has cancer and is using [cannabis]; is it going to cause greater harm or is it taking away the symptoms only?” Arieff added.
Arieff states that within the context of Islam, cannabis used as a recreational tool acts as an intoxicant, removing the user’s sense of judgement and consciousness.
While cannabis has been reported to have positive benefits when used in medicinal products, he asserts that more research needs to be conducted in order to have a comprehensive understanding on the effects of its use.
“We are not saying that if somebody wants to use it for recreational use it is permissible. We are saying that if doctors prescribe it and it is proven to be of benefit and all the five criteria are being used, then there wouldn’t be anything disallowing us from saying that it is permissible – [but] this is definitely not a fatwa,” Arieff explained. VOC