Dagga legalisation could lead to long-term abuse

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This will make the country the first in Africa to downgrade cannabis from a schedule seven banned substance to a schedule six prescription drug.

Dr Shaquir Salduker, board member of the Psychiatry Management Group (PsychMG) says he believes the proposed legislation requires review and thorough research, which to date has not been done.

“Easing the laws to allow medical research and discovery is a good idea, but releasing it for general consumption opens the door to possible abuse,” he says.

He adds that a report released in 2013 by the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU) suggests that one in 10 in SA has an addiction problem with cannabis and alcohol, being the most commonly abused drugs.

“Although there are some studies indicating that cannabis is as effective as existing painkillers and does have some effect on nausea, appetite stimulation, anxiety and seizures, there are to date no landmark studies into its role in pain management that would make it a revolutionary agent in pain control.

Read: Access to medicinal cannabis will soon be a reality

“The trends in the countries that have legalised [cannabis] have led to fraudulent prescriptions and ultimately become an epidemic of abuse, especially amongst those younger than 18.”

Salduker points out that there are potentially many benefits that will arise from cannabis research, but that there has to be a clear message put out that it’s not the same as the substance that is being smoked, eaten, vaporized or brewed in teas.

“The danger is that if its being used medicinally we have no idea of what dose is being administered and what the potential side effects are.”

Read: Requirements when dispensing prescription medicine

Changes can occur in:

• blood pressure,

• pulse rate,

• paranoia,

• extreme anxiety and,

• panic attacks, to name but a few.

“There seems to be a belief that if the oil is used, it’s medicinal as compared to smoking the weed.

“We also don’t know much about its interactions with chronic medications, so until it hasn’t been properly researched, sub-types isolated, cleaned-up and safety assured, it cannot be handed out willy-nilly and promoted as a ‘naturalistic or homeopathic’ treatment,” Salduker says.

He adds that excessive use of cannabis has dire consequences not only in terms of developing schizophrenia-like illnesses which may require life-long treatment of the disorder, but can also lead to the deterioration of existing mental disorders.

“Cannabis can provoke relapses in bipolar disorder and it can cause chronic amotivational syndrome in long term users.

“Research has shown that use amongst teens younger than 18 impacts higher brain function called cognition, which is essentially learning, memory, concentration and intellectual development as well as motivation.

“I fear that if the misperception gets entrenched, we are going to possibly have an entire generation of ‘brain damaged’ adults before the penny drops.”

Salduker says cannabis is a common form of self medication, like alcohol and codeine.

Due to its temporary effect on anxiety and sense of mood elevation, it can become quite habit-forming to patients suffering from mental illnesses.

“The historic pattern has been that youngsters start with alcohol and then cannabis and as time goes on they lose the meaning of ‘banned substance’ or ‘illegal’ and start to see all drugs as ‘having some good’ which can lead them to harder and life destructive drugs,” Salduker concludes.

A reader on the Springs Advertiser’s Facebook page made her opinion known on the subject known:

V Dyk Traci: “All of a sudden so many young people are going to be ‘sick’.”

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