What is Cannabis?

Cannabis is a plant cultivated by humans for two reasons: its fibres, which can be used to produce ropes and textiles, and its chemical components, known as phytocannabinoids, which interact with the body's endocannabinoid system. There are at least 113 distinct phytocannabinoids, of which the most well-known are CBD and THC. The plant produces these, along with terpenes (aromas) and flavonoids (flavours), primarily in its flowers.

The varieties of the plant used for fibre are known as hemp, and tend to have a lower concentration of phytocannabinoids. The varieties harvested for medicinal purposes are known as cannabis, among other names. The plant’s usage by humans dates back 5,000 years in written history, and possibly as far back as 10,000 years in archaeological evidence.

Cannabis has significant therapeutic properties and some harms to be mindful of.

Research into cannabis’s potential therapeutic properties is at an early stage due to the decades-long classification of cannabis as a banned substance, a status which was so rigorously enforced since the 1970s that almost no scientific research took place until recently. Evidence exists that cannabis is helpful in treating a range of symptoms including:

Risks associated with cannabis include dependency in at least 9% of those using cannabis regularly; possible negative impact on adolescent brain development in teenage daily users of high-potency cannabis; and increased risk of psychiatric disorders in daily users of high-potency cannabis, especially in people who are genetically predisposed and/or start using cannabis at a young age. Cannabis when smoked has been associated with breathing problems and cannabis when consumed during pregnancy has been linked to lower birth weight.

To give these serious risk a sense of proportion it is worth remembering the following: Nobody has ever died from a cannabis overdose. The majority of people who use marijuana don't go on to use other “harder” drugs. And as reported in the Lancet, arguably the world's leading medical journal:

In the Global Burden of Disease project, regular cannabis use was found to produce much less harm than regular alcohol and tobacco use. In Australia and Canada, two countries with a high prevalence of use, cannabis made a much smaller contribution to disease burden (largely through dependence) than did the opioids. The prevalence of cannabis dependence is much lower in most other countries; therefore, cannabis makes a smaller contribution to disease burden.”

It has been persuasively argued that cannabis’ potential harms are exacerbated by the failure to legalise and regulate it. In South Africa, unless a person is able to produce their own cannabis, they must resort to the illicit market. In almost all cases this means members of the public cannot know the chemical composition or dosage of what is consumed and receive no independent assurance that products are free of heavy metals, pesticides, moulds or other contaminants. Furthermore, the continued criminalisation of buying or selling cannabis means that the domestic market is controlled by criminal networks. Instead of collecting tax revenues the state expends great resources trying to police the sector, with no prospect of reducing consumption. It is likely that public health and wider social outcomes would be better served by a domestic cannabis market that is legal, regulated and taxed.

Karoo Bioscience produces cannabis according to strict pharmaceutical protocols. Emphasis is placed on water purity, exclusion of pests, fungi, moulds and other pathogens, avoidance of toxic pesticides, strict hygiene protocols, ongoing risk-assessment, copious record-keeping and comprehensive lab testing prior to product release.

Karoo Bioscience is committed to being led by scientific evidence. This applies in two areas. Firstly, using science to produce cannabis of the highest quality, and secondly, using science as the basis of truthful communication with our customers and the public.

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