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September 20, 2018

The need to ensure responsible marijuana use in view of its legalisation

The need to ensure responsible marijuana use in view of its legalisation Matteo Paganelli

The use of Marijuana has been a hotly contested topic for decades. Users of the substance have wanted the autonomy to take it on the basis of their right to privacy. On the 18th of September 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled on the matter, indicating that the use of Marijuana is legal within the home in South Africa and ordered that the law be amended to give effect to this ruling. While supportive of the realisation of the right to privacy, SAFMH wishes to issue a warning to users of the substance on the basis of the fact that research suggests it can have a negative effect on the mental health of a person. As such, we have released a press release on this subject. It appears below.


PRESS RELEASE: The need to ensure responsible marijuana use in view of its legalisation


On the 18th of September 2018, The Constitutional Court of the Republic of South Africa gave judgment legalising the private use of marijuana. The Court has given Parliament 24 months to correct what they deem to be defective legislation, specifically certain provisions of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 and the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act 101 of 1965. People ascribing to a specific religion, those in physical pain, as well as those who use the substance recreationally, will undoubtedly welcome the judgement. The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH), however, wishes to issue a warning to those making use of the substance as it could induce symptoms of mental illness and indeed mental illness itself.

We wish to firmly indicate that no matter your standpoint on the issue of marijuana usage, the risks associated with the use of a mood and mind-altering substance cannot be discounted. If you are a person with a mental illness, are genetically predisposed to mental illness or have experienced paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, depression or other recognisable symptoms of mood beyond the normal range, it is essential that you contact a doctor to discuss the use of this product before simply using it. While SAFMH would never discount the value of an item that can ease pain or the practice of which constitutes a religious rite, the dangers associated with the use of marijuana simply cannot be ignored. SAFMH therefore feels that it is extremely important that current and potential users take note of the risks associated with marijuana usage.

The body of knowledge surrounding this subject is considerable. The Royal College of Psychiatrists (2017), for instance, describes how the use of marijuana can lead to the aforesaid symptoms, rendering a user twice as likely to develop a psychotic disorder such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder. They discuss the onset of both short and long-term psychosis as a consequence of marijuana use. They illustrate that just as people can feel positive effects such as relaxation, there are also glaring negatives which can be extremely dangerous for a person both physically and mentally. The College also highlights that, should a person make use of marijuana in their younger years, there is a growing risk of developing mental illnesses later on in life.

Fichter and Moss - writing for the Psychiatric Times (2017) - noted that the use of marijuana is common among mental health care users, who have claimed that it assists them in managing their symptoms. These authors discuss how mental health care users frequently use marijuana for illnesses such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety disorders, insomnia and schizophrenia. While this may be the case, we reiterate that given no absolute clarity, a person with the propensity for mental illness should not make the attempt to self-medicate.

The South African Federation for Mental Health is a non-governmental organisation serving to protect and uphold the rights of people with mental illness, psychosocial disability and intellectual disability. We are bound to note with concern the fact that evidence suggests a nexus between marijuana use and mental illness. Even in the face of the opinion of some that its use may be safe and may actually improve symptoms of mental illness, we cannot escape the idea of the chance that it may have adverse effects. As an advocacy body (not a medical organisation), we cannot pronounce on the biological effects of the substance. We would however not wish for any mental health care user to leave to chance the possibility that they may make themselves unwell. We would therefore strongly advise that mental health care users, those with a genetic predisposition for mental illness and those who have experienced adverse effects of the substance to consult a doctor before commencing with or continuing with its use.

The Government of the Republic of South Africa is enjoined to protect those within its borders. While there can be no legal injunction precluding those who may be vulnerable to potential negative effects of marijuana, there ought to be research undertaken as to its effects on people so-situated and education provided to all relevant parties. One vulnerable life tarnished or lost is too many. We do not want to extinguish some rights in the name of others. We simply cannot afford to take the chance.


Nicole Breen

Project Leader: Information and Awareness

South African Federation for Mental Health

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011 781 1852

072 2577 938


Last modified on September 20, 2018