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IT was “higher education” of an entirely different nature on Wednesday evening when a diverse panel of medical and anthropological academics at Nelson Mandela University unpacked some of the effects of the recent Constitutional Court ruling on the private use of dagga.

Themed “To get high or not to get high? An evidence-based dialogue on the Legalisation of Cannabis Use in a Private Capacity”, the simultaneously sobering and light-hearted event was facilitated by renowned academic Professor Jonathan Jansen.

Bringing his own inimitable brand of humour to a topic known to attract controversy and giggles, Jansen led the discussions in his capacity of president of the Academy of Science of South Africa, under whose auspices the event was held.

The evening marked the academy’s third Presidential Roundtables: Science, Scholarship and Society event.

Facing an equally diverse audience of academics, students, businesspeople and the public, were panellists Dr Abdul Kader Domingo and Professor Keymanthri Moodley, both of Stellenbosch University, Professor Fraser McNeill, an associate professor of social anthropology at the University of Pretoria and Professor Eva Manyedi, an associate professor in the School of nursing at North-West University.

With panellists collectively providing an ultimately balanced outlook on the use of dagga, much of the evening’s discussions were centred on its effects on the brain, and particularly its effects on the youth and developing brains.

Countering what he termed an “it’s organic, don’t panic” perception on dagga held by some members of the public, Domingo homed in on the negative effects on the developing brain, saying the use of dagga by young people could result in ills such as psychosis, stunted brain development and cognition and stunted development of intelligence.

Moodley, noting that dagga had been used for the past 4,000 years, and that it has been documented in 2,700year-old Chinese medicinal records, said it would serve as an important example and talking point for issues such as the “decolonisation of African culture and society”.

Citing an example of a queue of pupils lining up to buy “oranges”, which turned out to be dagga, outside a school, Manyedi called attention to the need to shield children from the substance.

McNeill touched on a number of social aspects of dagga and its use, and particularly the use of dagga in traditional African settings.

Calling for a debate based on actual evidence, McNeill delivered unique insights, which included that the active, hallucinatory ingredient came from the female plant and that in some traditional cultures, dagga was largely used by older people.

This article appeared in The Herald of 22 November 2018 written by SHaun Gillham

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