Hon Chairperson, hon members, hon Ministers, Deputy Ministers and hon Oriani-Ambrosini, let me start by saying that anything that is claimed to be and could be used for medicinal purposes can be used. But what becomes important is, is it safe to be used by people? I think that's an important question that we need to answer.
Let me start by saying that when we debate things that pertain to health, emotions are inevitably involved. Let me continue by saying that do not lead; I may not follow. Do not follow; I may not lead. Let us walk side by side and we will achieve more.
In discussing and debating this matter I think it's a very emotional topic. I would like us to move together. We can do this with humility, honesty and integrity and cool down our emotions and face reality. Humility is defined as patience when you have nothing and a good attitude when you have it all. Let us commend the ANC for bringing this debate to everybody and being the government of the people by the people for the people. Well done, ANC. Let the people decide.
South Africa has got a problem of increasing morbidity of noncommunicable diseases. One of the conditions that occur with noncommunicable disease is cancer. Cancer is something that can be handled. When it's there, it is very difficult to cure, but it can be managed especially when you get it quite early. It is on the increase. There are several reasons why it is on the increase. One of the reasons is that our life expectancy has gone up, and it is going up. The older you become the more your body has difficulty in clearing abnormal cells in your body. The second one is that we have HIV and Aids pandemics which lower your immunity. If your immunity has gone down, your body has difficulty in clearing whatever abnormal cells that are in your body.
Poverty leads to malnutrition; malnutrition leads to low immunity; and low immunity leads to a situation where you can't clear abnormal cells in your body. There are environmental factors that are changing everyday, the ultraviolet radiation and all those things contribute in changing the mitotic structures of our cells. Certain chemicals and micro-organisms directly affect our nuclei and cause some of our cells to become cancerous.
The consequences of cancer are that our budget goes down because we have got to manage, investigate and treat those patients who have cancer. Secondly, the later cancer gets diagnosed the higher the morbidity rate, which reduces our human resources. The absence of people from work because of illness contributes to and brings down our economy. I can supply figures and statistics relating to this, but because of time I cannot now. I will however make it available to whomever wants access to it. This means that we have to be vigilant in making sure that cancer is under control. The sooner we diagnose it, the better.
Chairperson, please allow me to turn to cannabis as it has been claimed that it is antimitotic. The plant does not cure cancer itself, but it can alleviate the vomiting and nausea, especially from the drugs that are used in chemotherapy. It has a sedative effect on those who are conscious about their cancerous situation. There is a question about whether it is antimitotic or not.
Cannabis is a natural plant which occurred around the Genesis time. This is a plant that was created by God. In fact I want to remind people and say something that I have said before that, interestingly, God created two important departments. All the other departments that we have are man-made. The two departments that were created by God are the departments of Health and Agriculture. The Garden of Eden was agricultural and I think we know that. God created the Garden of Eden and there were plants that were medicinal for health. At the same time God operated on Adam to create Eve. That operation had to be performed on Adam while he was asleep. These are the two departments that were created by God.
Let me go back to the plant itself. The plant has ingredients that are called cannabinoids. There are about five to six or more of them. Let me mention the five cannabinoids that are the ingredients: Delta-8 THC or THC; cannabidiol; cannabinol; Tetrahydrocannabivarin; and Cannabichromene. All these are cannabinoids that are found in cannabis sativa. But nobody knows which one causes the effects that I am going to talk about. I am mentioning this because there is going to be a catch towards the end. No one is sure which active ingredient does what, but what we know is that the plant can be used orally, rectally, or you can smoke it. It is a lipid soluble substance, which means that, if you take it orally, it will take a long time to act compared to smoking it.
The bodies of human beings have what we call cannabinoid receptors, which receive those cannabinoids that I was talking about, but the reaction to cannabinoid is not the same in different individuals. That's why if I smoke dagga it may not have the same effect when it is smoked by somebody else. The reaction differs in different people because of the cannabinoid receptors.
Cannabis sativa, when taken, makes individuals excited and agitated. They usually have an ataxia, they start shaking, and get tremors. They have euphoria and a pleasant sensation and visual imagery. It may affect their perception of time and space. They have hallucinations and illusions. Their eyes become congested and red. Their pulse rate increases. Some individuals get high and sometimes it may urge people to commit regrettable deeds. The reactions differ from one individual to the next. As I've mentioned, because of the cannabinoid receptors, some people use it for recreational purposes and abuse it, especially for the euphoria and the excitement part.
Despite all of the above, it has been found to have medicinal effects. Maybe I need to explain what I mean by medicinal effects. Using medicinal plants for medicinal effects means that, if you use that particular plant, it can alleviate the ailments or the incapabilities that you have. That is what we mean by medicinal.
Let us look at the medicinal effects of cannabis. It is known that it alleviates vomiting and nausea, especially vomiting and nausea that is caused by the chemotherapy treatment of cancer. It sedates with minimal dependency. By dependency it means that you are not going to get hooked on it and there is no tolerance - that is dagga as compared to other drugs that could do that, for example morphine. It reverses the high intraocular pressure in your eye and it can be used in treating people with glaucoma. These are the things that have been proven.
It has been used with success in multiple sclerosis, to treat spasms that come from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It is used in people who are stiff because of strychnine poisoning. It can improve the spasticity caused by tetanus and in other similar conditions. It can be used as an antibiotic, especially in gonorrhea. When you have gonorrhea, you can use dagga and it will actually cure it. It causes bronchodilatation in those people who have bronchoconstriction. What I am trying to say is that in asthma you can use cannabis and it will alliviate the symptoms. When the effect of cannabis is finished, it will come back again, but actually it improves it. It causes general vasodilatation of the body - that is why your eyes become red and congested. It lowers your blood pressure at that time. Even in diabetes it has some effect, but the only thing that we are not sure about is whether it has an antimitotic effect. An antimitotic effect means that it stops cells from growing, especially the cancer cells that are growing fast. It is claimed that there is that effect, but it has not yet been proven.
Let me go on to say that cannabis sativa has been there from Genesis - the time when God created the world. It is a plant. Since it has been there, there has never been research work until the 1800s. Even before the 1800s in places like China and India they used it before it was researched. It is not only in these places that I have mentioned where they used it, but even in South Africa the Khoi people used it without research. The Xhosa people in the Pondoland, in the Eastern Cape, used it. Fortunately, they are still using it even now. Let me not say fortunately, but they are still using it. [Laughter.]
The research work goes back to 1840s by Prof O'Shaughnessy, who was a professor of physiology and chemistry in Calcutta. He graduated in Edinburgh. He did a lot of work around cannabis to find how it works. Having done that, they thought that it was a plant that came from India and they called it cannabis Indica. It was in the 1840s. Having found that and also graduated from Edinburgh, he tried to convince the western countries of the various uses of this plant.
The research went on for almost 100 years and cannabis was used as a medicinal plant by the whole world for 100 years. At that time the only sedatives that we had in those 100 years were opiates. Opiates are drugs like morphine. The side effects of opiates were more than the side effects from cannabis. That's why it was easy to use cannabis at that time. What happened later, after the 100 years the world started inventing new drugs such as paraldehydes and barbiturates. Although cannabis worked very well you could not use it subcutaneously or intravenously. As I said, it is a lipid soluble and it was not effective. These new drugs were effective and they did not have the same side effects as opiates. The world went with them because of the recreational problems with dagga and cannabis sativa.
Politically and professionally people went with the new drugs and they got worried about the side effects or the problems related to cannabis and they tried to make sure that it was made illegal. Around the 1940s it was made illegal. While it was made illegal, in Czechoslovakia it was found that it could work as an antibiotic and it was used to treat gonorrhea. But whatever study they did was shot down even though they confirmed that it could work as an antibiotic. In 1941 it was said that it could not be used because of the abuse of it. Everybody left it for the new drugs and it was illegal to use it.
Subsequently, there was some work that was done around cannabis, but they could not do it properly because it was illegal. They could not do proper research, hence there are still a lot of questions around cannabis. It is a plant that we know can alleviate certain problems. There are many drugs that could be used over and above cannabis. We have not thoroughly researched the cannabinoids, either the receptors or the cannabinoid themselves in the plant, because it is very difficult to do the research. This makes it a bit difficult to say that this one can be used and that one cannot be used, especially knowing that there are some of those cannabinoids that cause problems and can be abused. [Time expired.] [Applause.]