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Rise in number of young South Africans seeking help for cannabis abuse

There’s been a significant climb in the numbers of cannabis users seeking substance abuse treatment in South Africa, fanning the flames of an already fiery debate over its legalisation in the country.

Nadine Harker, a scientist in the Drug Research Unit at the SA Medical Research Council, said cannabis use among young people had definitely risen, reports TimesLIVE.

“Nationally, cannabis-related treatment admissions among young people under 20 have increased by 16%,” she said, comparing the second half of 2021 with the first half of 2022.

Limpopo and Mpumalanga saw the largest increase (20%) followed by Gauteng (15%), KwaZulu-Natal (12%) and the Western Cape (4%). The average age of those seeking treatment dropped from 24 to 21 in KwaZulu-Natal.

Some experts assert cannabis use adds to the problem of drug abuse and warn that children are passively smoking at home after a 2018 court ruling enabled adults to smoke weed in private.

However, although South Africa’s apex court ruled at the time that it was unconstitutional to criminalise home use and cultivation of cannabis by adults, and while the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill was drafted in response, it has yet to be ratified by Parliament.

It was meant to be processed and ratified as law in 2022, but it is still pending.

On the potential impact of cannabis legislation, particularly on children and youth, Professor Kebogile Mokwena, head of public health at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, said it “brings a range of significant negative consequences”.

Quitting cannabis “is difficult, expensive, takes a long time and is often unsuccessful’.
“Once addicted, many users need and want treatment services but often have difficulty accessing such services in this country.”

She said “increased availability, social acceptance and possibly lower prices” boost demand and use when a legal framework changes.

Myrtle Clarke, head of civil society organisation Fields of Green for All, said the legislative limbo has led to “ongoing unjust arrests”.

Research and Markets said South Africa’s cannabis/CBD industry was worth R87.7m in 2021 and expected to grow to R406m by 2026. Cannabis plants contain quantities of THC (sought by recreational users for a high) and CBD, not psychoactive. Legal CBD products locally cannot contain more than 0.001% THC.

“The harms of cannabis have to be weighted against the harms of prohibition,” said Clarke.

She said an increase in those seeking treatment was not “black and white” evidence that this stemmed from the apex court decision.

“We have known from the beginning that those on the prohibitionist side are two types: Christians and rehab centres that have an economic interest in it. Many of the rehab centres are faith-based.”

She said the regulations have “been sitting in limbo for four and a half years”.


TimesLIVE article – SA’s slow-burn cannabis conundrum lingers as youth seek treatment for weed abuse (Restricted access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Cannabis law reform: experts cite possible public health consequences


There are risks associated with recreational dagga, SA company says


Expert opinion divided over health impacts as SA legalises dagga


Portfolio committee extends scope of the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill


Parliament should reconsider ‘woefully lacking’ Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill


Draft Cannabis Bill is a missed opportunity — critics




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