Cannabis in the Spotlight

To get high, or not to get high? A multi-disciplinary team of panellists shed some light on the use of cannabis at the third Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) Presidential Roundtable in Port Elizabeth on 21 November 2018.

The roundtable, hosted by ASSAf, in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela University and in media partnership with the Herald Live, focussed on the implications of the recent decriminalisation of cannabis use in a private capacity. ASSAf President, Prof Jonathan Jansen, moderated the discussion. 

In a landmark decision by the South African Constitutional Court in September this year South Africa became the first African country to legalise private use and growing of cannabis.

While hailed as a victory for human rights and users of cannabis, cautionary notes are increasingly being sounded. What are the medical consequences and the social considerations?

Pro-lobbyists see no harm in recreational use, but in its response to the legalisation, the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) noted a growing public perception of cannabis as a ‘harmless’ plant.

Panellists at the roundtable who offered their evidence-based and scientific views on this controversial subject and issues around it were Dr Abdul Kader Domingo, Specialist Psychiatrist and Senior Lecturer at Stellenbosch University and a member of the SA Society of Psychiatrists Special Group on Addictions; Prof Keymanthri Moodley, Director of the Centre for Medical Ethics and Law, Faculty of Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University; Prof Fraser McNeill, Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Pretoria and Prof Eva Manyedi, Associate Professor in the School of Nursing, North-West University and a member of the Central Drug Authority.

In their opening statements, the panellists provided a balanced view on the decriminalisation of cannabis and the implications of its use. The focus of the ensuing discussions leaned towards the negative consequences, in particular, the effects of cannabis on the brain and the detrimental effects on developing brains when the risk of psychotic illness is increased with early and regular use of cannabis.

The panel faced a diverse, and in terms of opinion, a divided audience of academics, students, business people and the general public. Some in the audience dismissed the association of cannabis with potential harm.