Dr Walter Chingwaru Correspondent
Hopes of conducting research on the health benefits of marijuana, also known as hemp, within the perimeter of Zimbabwe were ever suppressed by the Dangerous Drugs Act 15 02 (or Acts 28/1955 (Federal), 25/1956 (Federal), 61/1971, 18/1989 (s. 26), 3/1995; 1/1996, 22/2001; R.G.N. 685/1963).
The recent announcement by Health and Child Care Minister, Dr David Parirenyatwa, in a Government Gazette that production and research into the herb will be legalised under a Statutory Instrument 62 of 2018 (Dangerous Drugs — Production of Cannabis for Medicinal and Scientific Use Regulations) has suddenly opened up avenues for research and development (R&D) of cannabis-based health-promoting products.
Certainly, waking up to this news is perhaps one of the best things for a biomedical scientist seeking answers to public health challenges from natural products. Having worked with biotechnological companies and research centres that are into R&D in cannabis products, particularly International Institute for Cannabinoids (ICANNA), based in Slovenia and having travelled to countries where hemp use is liberalised, such as parts of the United States of America and The Netherlands, I realised that, by restricting R&D on hemp under the Dangerous Drugs Act 15 02, Zimbabwe had kept a heavy lid on her potential for economic growth.
Based on the cumulative scientific evidence thus far, it is clear that marijuana is like a gold mine for biomedical discoveries, with a potential to yield a number of health promoting products. Hemp can be used as a food supplement owing to its health promoting effects, including the fact that it is rich in substances that have anti-inflammatory, antioxidative and neuroprotective effects.
Zimbabwe is faced with an increasing burden of both infectious and non-infectious diseases.
By opening up doors to R&D of hemp based products, Zimbabwe may have opened doors to many discoveries with potential to help solve the growing number of health problems including cancers, diabetes, obesity, anorexia, emesis, pain, inflammation, multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative disorders (Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease), epilepsy, glaucoma, osteoporosis, schizophrenia, cardiovascular disorders, and metabolic syndrome-related disorders as well as infections such as diarrhoea and HIV.
Further controlled research to unravel the biological effects of the herb is necessary.
We need to build up a home grown knowledge base that is relevant for our people. It must be known that research done in other populations may not easily be translated to our own population.
Cannabis sativa L. is an important plant that has been used as a source of fibre, seed and seed oils, and for medicinal and recreational purposes for centuries by many cultures around the globe. The beneficial effects of natural compounds derived from this plant, especially those that are known to harbour anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities, can be tapped on in our bid to solve Zimbabwe’s current health quagmire.
In fact, armed with the noted health promoting components, hemp may as well be the panacea to many a human disease. For instance, it is the anti-inflammatory and the antioxidative properties that underlie the wound healing, neuroprotective and anti-cancer activities of the existing drugs. The challenge with the existing drugs is that many have side-effects that render adherence to treatment impossible. Plant-based medicines are often without side-effect.
Cannabis contains substances called cannabinoids that are responsible for the anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects. Many cannabinoids are known to exist in nature, but cannabidiol (CBD) is the most abundant chemical in hemp. CBD offers a number of potential benefits to human health, including the evidence that they promote wound healing, and have anticancer, antiinfective and neuroprotective properties among a myriad effects. To enjoy the health benefits of hemp, certainly, further research into the bioactivities of CBD is required. At our BUSE laboratory, I am working in conjunction with ICANNA and other international collaborators to find out the wound healing properties of herbs.
These scientists have hesitated to include hemp on their menu of medicinal plants.
As such the new legislation is a welcome development that will allow these scientists to explore the health benefits of hemp.
To fully explore the health benefits of hemp, funding is required. Since my arrival at Bindura University of Science Education (BUSE) in 2015, I have been putting together a cell culture laboratory and seeking funding in preparation for this venture into the world of cannabinoids.
Armed with knowledge that hemp can help rescue the country from economic depression and help solve the increasing burden of diseases, researchers felt helpless in face of the draconian legislation of the day. As such, waking up to the news that R&D on hemp has been liberalised was one of the best news. Ironically, behind the scenes we have been working hand-in-hand with Slovenian counterparts to develop a draft legislation that seeks to legalise hemp as a food supplement in that country.
Hopes of similar legal instruments in Zimbabwe ever looked bleak.
The liberalisation of R&D into hemp products may have opened up chances for economic growth, as well as avenues for improved quality of life among Zimbabweans. The climate in Zimbabwe is thought to be ideal for hemp production owing to the loads of sunshine and good soils the country enjoys.
Who knows, the hemp Zimbabwe would produce may even have more novel effects as a result. However, it must be made clear that the over-use of hemp for recreational purposes is associated with a number of undesirable effects, including impaired judgment often leading to road traffic accidents. My excitement with the herb does not mean I have used/abused the drug. My interest in the herb is guided by my expert knowledge of the potential benefits associated with taking the herb. In fact, abusing the herb is known to have a number of undesirable consequences including road accident.