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South African Medical Journal

Dagga is the common South African term which describes the coarse leaf-powder (containing seeds) made from the flowering top of the Indian hemp plant, botanically known as Cannabis. The hemp plant originated in Central Europe, but it now grows in most parts of the world, wild or in cultivation, as an annual. Any part of it, when rubbed between the fingers, gives off a characteristic minty odour, the flowering tops being slightly sticky to the touch. The hemp seed (chenevis) is used in the manufac­ture of varnish and paint. It was formerly used for soap­making. In hot, dry countries (the plains of India) the plant is cultivated to produce textile fibres. l

The inebriating properties of hemp have long been known. Herodotus 2 wrote that the plant was cultivated in Scythia and Thrace, and the inhabitants not only made clothes from it, but also intoxicated themselves by roasting the seeds on hot stones and breathing the vapours. To-day an imposing number of narcotic preparations· is made from the hemp plant for consumption by addicts all over the world. Drugs may be prepared for smoking (chira, hashish, marihuana, dagga) or for drinking (assis, chats­raki). In Eastern countries much ingenuity is devoted to the making of sweet-meats which contain the Cannabis resin in mixtures of almond, chocolate or honey; these substances have a reputation as aphrodisiacs in Arab medicine.

Drugs which produce addiction generally have effects regarded as pleasurable. That hemp has these properties is evident from the serious problem created by its control and use in the United States. The recent imprisonment of a group of film actors focussed fresh public attention on Cannabis addiction and showed that it is not confined to the lowest economic groups of the population. The impression is that in South Africa dagga is used chiefly by Coloured persons and a small number of the more degenerate Europeans. There is a strong popular dis­approval directed against it.

At the Grahamstown Medical Congress, in 1935, a resolution was passed asking the Minister of the Interior to arrange for an investigation of the likelihood that dagga smoking could produce psychotic states and intellectual deterioration. As a result a study of dagga smoking 3 was made by the staff of the Pretoria Mental Hospital.

Dagga is die algemeen bekende Suid-Afrikaanse term wat die growwe (saadbevattende) blaarpoeier beskryf wat van die blomtoppe van die lndiese hennep, in die plant­kunde bekend as Cannabis, gemaak word. Die hennep­plant het sy oorsprong in Sentraal-Europa maar dit groei nou wild of gekweek in die meeste dele van die wereld as ‘n jaarplant. Wanneer enige deel daarvan tussen die vingers gevryf word, het dit ‘d kenmerkende kruisement­agtige geur en die blomtoppe voel effens klewerig. Die hennepsaad (chenevis) word gebruik by die vervaardiging van vernis en verf. Dit is voorheen vir die maak van seep gebruik. In warm, droe lande (die vlaktes van Indic) word die plant vir tekstielvesels gekweek.l

Die bedwelmende eienskappe van hennep is reeds lank bekend. Herodotus 2 het geskryf dat die plant in Skithie en Thracie gekweek is en die bewoners het nie slegs klere daarvan gemaak nie maar het hulle ook bedwelm deur die saad op warm klippe te braai en die dampe in te asem. Op die oomblik word ‘n indrukwekkende aantal narkotiese preparate van die hennepplant vir verbruik deur verslaafdes oor die wereld gemaak. Verdowings­middels om te rook kan gemaak word (chira, hasjish, marijuana, dagga) of om te drink (assis, sjats-raki). In die lande van die Ooste word met veel vernuf lekkers gemaak wat die Cannabis-harpuis in mengsels van amandel, sjokolade of helJning bevat; in Arabiese geneeskunde word hierdie stowwe beskou as geslags· prikkelmiddels.

Verdowingsrniddels wat. verslaafdheid veroorsaak, het gewoonlik ‘n uitwerking wat as aangenaam beskou word. Oat hennep hierdie eienskap besit, blyk duidelik uit die ernstige probleem wat deur die beheer en gebruik daarvan in die Verenigde State van Amerika geskep is. Die onlangse gevangesetting van ‘n groep filmakteurs het opnuut die aandag van die publiek op verslaafdheid aan Cannabis gevestig en het getoon dat dit nie tot die laagste ekonomiese groepe van die bevolking beperk is nie. Die indruk bestaan dat dagga in Suid-Afrika hoofsaaklik deur Kleurlin~e en ‘n klein aantal ontaarde blankes gebruik word. Sterk afkeur van die oubliek is daarteen l!:emik.

Op die Grahamstadse Mediese Kongres van 1935 is ‘n besluit aanl!:eneem waarin die Minister van Binnelandse Sake gevra is om ‘n ondersoek te reel na die moontlikheid dat die rook van dagga psigotiese toestande en verstande· like agteruitgang kan veroorsaak. As gevolg daarvan is ‘n ondersoek na die rook van ~!!a 3 deur die personeel van die hospitaal vir sielsiekes te Pretoria gedoen.

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Dagga usage among medical students in Johannesburg SAMJ 16 APRIL 1983


in 19831020 undergraduate medical students at the University of the Witwatersrand was surveyed in 1981 as regards attitudes to and patterns of illicit drug use 868 completed the questionnaire; 32,4% had tried dagga (cannabis) and 16,4% were still using the drug. There was a large increase in the number of students using the drug as they advanced through
their studies (6% of the 1st-year class as against 24% of the 5th-year class). The timing of dagga use and previous experimentation with habit-forming drugs· are mentioned, and reasons for non-experimentation· and attitudes towards legalization of dagga are analysed.South African Medical Journal

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Cannabis addicts regard the smoking of hemp as a ‘way of life’. – Theodore James 1969
45 years later the Dagga Movement reminds the world that: Dagga is a healthy lifestyle, not a drug. Dagga is a way of life, not a crime.

South African Medical Journal

This communication is concerned with a topic that has not yet been publicly discussed or expressed. It is the outcome of inquiry into the problems pertaining to the indulgence in dagga by our so-called permissive society which has erupted all over the world, bearing in mind the indigenous characteristics and culture of the different regions.

In The Times of 24 July 1967 a conglomerate group of scientists, doctors and intellectual types asserted that ‘the law against marihuana is immoral in principle and un­workable in practice’. This is one of the various declara­tions which have been uttered in recent years for the abrogation of much of the law and the associated ideas against the taking of cannabis or dagga.

In the summary of the report of the Advisory Com­mittee on Drug Dependence’ it was stated that ‘cannabis is a potent drug having as wide a capacity as alcohol to alter mood, judgement and functional ability’, and The Lancet,’ citing this summary, agreed that it is a dangerous drug in that particular respect.

The purpose of this paper is to stress the considerable danger inherent in that ‘alteration of mood, judgement and functional ability’, and the driving of a motor vehicle. I know of no conviction for dangerous driving while ‘under the influence’ of dagga, but the reasons for this are pretty obvious. It is difficult enough to bring in a verdict of dangerous driving while under the influence of alcohol, without thrusting this infinitely more difficult proof upon the shoulders of the public prosecutor. Never­theless, the possibility, even probability, of such a com­bination of circumstances justifies its consideration.

It is not my wish to mention the pros and cons of dagga smoking, but some of the effects of dagga smoking upon human beings need to be described in order to appreciate their relationship with the act of driving a motor car. With all pious moralizing put aside, the grave nature of this relationship will disclose itself. Let it be acknowledged openly that the drug is able to excite unmixed pleasure when used moderately. Johnston3,. described its use as producing ‘an increase of pleasure’; it is ‘the exciter of desire, the cementer of friendship, the laughter-mover, and the causer of the reeling gait’. That was written 115 years ago. More detailed impressions have been forthcoming since his time and the sensory perceptions which are most commonly experienced and which have a direct bearing upon my topic are those which Thomas de Quincey so admirably expressed to convey his sensations after eating opium: time lengthens to infinity and space swells to immensity. These altered perceptions are very real to the dagga smoker of almost any type of character or temperament. Exaggeration is the cardinal manifesta­tion of most of the perceptive illusions when they are experienced. But exaggeration also expresses itself in the overt behaviour pattern which is derived from the basic character and temperament of the user of dagga. This is important in that the drug removes the veneer of conditioned civilized behaviour of an individual and exposes true character and temperament. If one be meek and mild the influence is to exaggerate this characteristic to inane bonhomie and fatuous friendliness. But if aggressiveness be the foundation-stone of his character which also evokes hostility, then quarrelsome and contentious is likely to be his pattern of behaviour. To the simple, primitive herds­man with his flock of sheep a pleasure derived has been the apparent large increase of his flock; whereas to the desert-dweller the pool of muddy water at the bottom of the wahdi has appeared to his magnifying eyes as the Selima Oasis.

The prolongation of seconds into minutes, minutes into hours, and hours into days is a remarkable but unexplained subjective cerebral phenomenon. Certainly, short periods of time are extended without any relationship with the actual passage of time, and such a disassociation of sub­jective awareness of time and actual time when the driver is under the influence of dagga, could be life-taking. There seems to be all the time in the world to carry out the particular manoeuvre indicated by the emergent cir­cumstances in which the driver finds himself, but in fact there are only a few seconds. This fact with its attendant hazards speaks for itself.

The other subjective and vivid awareness of a pro­longation and expansion of spatial dimensions can bring with it attendant danger. Two optical sensory fallacies, opposite in their direction, may occur but not in the same person during one episode of intoxication. One is the false impression of near objectives being seen very clearly at a far distance, and the other is exactly the reverse impres­sion-objects far away are like those pinpointed by the cine-camera and ‘zoomed’ within a second or two to within a few feet of the viewer. Whichever optical illusion is excited by the drug, the dangers involving the drugged driver also speak for themselves.

There are one or two important factors related to the use of dagga in the circumstances under discussion, and these are pharmacological facts. If the dagga is taken as smoke, the effects, if they are to be produced in the parti­cular individual (for much depends on the personality of the smoker and the quality of the dagga), will show them­selves in a few minutes. If this be the case and the quantity inhaled from a ‘good’ dagga cigarette is enough, it will be able to continue exciting the senses for as long as 9 hours.’ How an individual will respond to the intake of dagga in this manner is unpredictable at the start, and even afterwards his behaviour may be modified by his mood and state of health. It is unusual for 2 or more smokers to respond similarly to the same cigarette.

It is not uncommon for the effects of alcohol and dagga to be compared, but this comparison can be faulted. The likeness is superficial only. Alcohol induces a contraction of the personality and is essentially a de­pressant and not a stimulant, whereas dagga is curiously enough both stimulant and depressant but in different areas. Dagga does produce drowsiness and even sleep if the smoker be left undisturbed, but it is also capable of astonishing augmentation of physical strength. What is known about the time of onset and the duration of these pleasurable sensations is significant where driving a car is concerned. To drink alcohol to the blood-level of care­lessness is not necessarily a long undertaking and if this is followed by the drinker driving a car, then he does so with all his senses blunted as well as a degree of defective muscular co-ordination. Alcohol per se does not stimulate agreeable sensory perception, which dagga does, but by removing inhibitions it apparently expands the drinker’s personality. Dagga in moderation need not inco-ordinate the neuromuscular system; but it does falsify impressions to render them enjoyable, and this is where dagga and the driver become a dangerous combination. But dagga plus alcohol in the driver is even worse.

Although the taking of dagga, in South Africa almost always by smoking, is an illegal act in this country, the control of the drugs is extremely inadequate-if legal prose­cutions and convictions running into many thousands per annum are any indication (see below)-and it has be­come ‘permissive’ among the White ‘t~lite’ male youth of this country, whereas not so long ago it was only the ‘poor whites’ and non-Whites who were dagga smokers. Now­adays not only is it ‘permissive’, but among our younger citizens you are simply not ‘with it’ if you are not sociable enough to join in such delightful group activities! Any young man of 18 or so years of age, able to vote and drive a car, could, if he would, tell of friends or asso­ciates of his who indulge in the weed. High schools, colleges and universities have their habitues.


I have no recent figures for prosecutions and convictions for the crime of being in the possession of dagga, but 21 years ago the breakdown of convictions for this crime for the whole of the Union as it then was, was as follows:’ Whites 185, Coloureds 2 950, Bantu 10676 and Asiatics
205. It is most likely that the culprits were those resident in or near urban areas. There is no valid reason to believe that any diminution in the number of prosecutions and convictions-which 2 groups of civil offenders are prac­tically identical-has taken place over these 21 years, and there is every reason to believe that with a rapidly grow­ing population of all ethnic groups, together with a rise in the general standards of living, at a time when there is a strong drive for leniency or even condonation of erst­while misdeeds, the incidence of dagga smoking has in­creased enormously. As the pedlars might say, ‘It’s been good for trade’. Cannabis addicts regard the smoking of hemp as a ‘way of life’.


An attempt has been made to draw attention to a very probable lethal factor which could well be emerging onto our motor highways and prevalent mainly among our youth rising to manhood. This is the so-called ‘permissive’ smoking, although illegal, of dagga, marihuana, hashish, ‘pot’, ‘grass’­call it what you will. No solution to this probable problem is proposed; it is felt that an awareness of such a threatening situation will go some way towards its mitigation. An un­loaded gun is no more lethal than a walking-stick. A ‘loaded’ driver of a motor car is dangerous indeed.


  1. Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence (1969): Summary of Report on Cannabis. London: H.f\.1. Stationery Office.
  • Leading Article (1969): Lancet, 139.
  • J. F. W. (1855): Op cit.’
  • Baker-Bales, E. T. (1935): lancet. I. 811.
  • Interdepartmental Committee on lhe Abuse of Dagga (1952): Union of South Africa Reports W.G. No. 31.

‘Date received: 26 November 1969.

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