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Updated 18 December 2013

Dagga: some basic facts

Your guide to dagga: abuse, its effects, symptoms and signs of dagga use.

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Your guide to dagga: abuse, effect, symptoms and signs, and treatment.

Appearance
Dagga looks a bit like the tobacco one can buy in shops. It consists of dry leaves of the cannabis sativa plant. The female plant contains seeds, which can be planted, but which are usually removed from the mixture before smoking it. The male plant does not contain seeds. The dried leaves are brown or dark green in colour and looks a bit like mixed herbs one buys in the supermarket. The cost of dagga varies from area to area, but is generally inexpensive.

Dagga in South Africa

Dagga is South Africa’s most generally used drug. It is cheap, freely available.

Also known as Grass, boom, joint, zol, dope, skyf, weed, hash, majat(a low grade dagga), poison, peperskyf, ganja, Swazi Gold, Malawi Gold, mabange, insangu, imya, lebake, splif, Transkei Colly, Durban poison etc.

In South Africa much of the dagga on the streets gets sold in small plastic bank bags, generally known as ‘bankies’. One can also buy a small quantity called an arm or finger, a cob, usually about 6 – 10 fingers’ worth or a brick, which is a compressed block. It is reasonably inexpensive and the price depends on the quality.

Dagga is grown in many backyards as well as in Kwa-Zulu Natal. South-Eastern Cape, Swaziland and the Drakensberg region. It grows prolifically in sometimes very poor and mountainous soil and yields very lucrative cash crops to sometimes very poor communities.

It is probably the only mind-altering substance (except alcohol) which is in fairly widespread use in the South African population as a whole and also commands a certain social acceptability. Its medicinal properties are widely acknowledged, but these still need to be confirmed in clinical trials, which can only take place if dagga is decriminilised. It is reported, among other benefits, to combat nausea in cancer patients and to decrease the weight losses experienced by HIV patients.

How is it used?
The active ingredient of dagga is THC (tetrahydracannabinol). Dagga is either smoked or ingested. It is often mixed into dough and baked or used as tea leaves. This infusion is then drunk. It is also sometimes mixed with methaqualone-powder in a white pipe, for which a bottleneck is often used.

Many users roll their own cigarettes, sometimes mixed with normal tobacco. It can also be smoked in a pipe, but this is not done as often.

Dagga is often mixed and inhaled with other substances, such as Mandrax. From the East originates a solid greenish-brown resin called hashish. This is more expensive and not used often in South Africa. Hashish-oil, an oily plant extract, can be dropped onto the tips of cigarettes or dripped into pipes and smoked. This is fairly uncommon in South Africa.

Some drug counsellors see dagga as a portal drug, in other words, a drug which introduces a potential drug addict to mind-altering substances. There are also those who oppose this view and state that many dagga users never continue onto using other drugs.

Effects of dagga

It usually takes only a few minutes for the effects of dagga to take hold. A high can last from 15 minutes to several hours and can bring about feelings of mild euphoria, occasional hallucinations, increased perceptions (these are not always realistic), short-term memory loss, giggling, possible anxiety and occasionally paranoia.

Physical effects include thirst and an increase in appetite, an increase in heart and pulse rate, a dry mouth and red eyes. When taken with alcohol it can sometimes lead to aggression.

THC is stored in the fatty tissue of the body for up to a week after use, unlike alcohol, which is usually eliminated from the body within 6-8 hours after being taken.

When used in excessive quantities, the smoke inhalation can lead to lung cancer, delayed sexual development in men, suppression of ovulation in women, memory lapses and lack of concentration.

Symptoms of excessive use of dagga

One has to use vast quantities of dagga over a long period of time before the symptoms of drug abuse become as apparent as they are in the case of drugs like heroin and cocaine.

People who smoke five joints a week expose themselves to as many cancer-causing chemicals as people who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day. They inhale more deeply and keep the smoke in their lungs for longer.

This is not true for people who suffer from psychiatric illnesses and others who are on heavy medication. In these cases reaction to dagga can be quite dramatic and these individuals should steer completely clear of it as they should of alcohol and all other mind-altering substances.

The effects of long term use of dagga include:

  • glassy, red eyes
  • socially inappropriate behaviour such as loud talking and puzzling bursts of laughter
  • sleepiness often at strange times
  • a sweet burnt scent on the user or in the room
  • loss of interest in activities formerly enjoyed
  • loss of motivation
  • weight gain or loss
  • lung and respiratory problems related to smoke inhalation
  • concentration difficulties
  • memory lapses
  • difficulty learning new things

What does the detoxification process look like?

Nothing like the withdrawal symptoms from hardline drugs such as heroine or crack. Dagga in itself does not seem to be addictive, as the people who suddenly stop their use appear to have a greater psychological dependence than a physiological dependence on it.

A mild increase in irritability and aggression is reported in heavy users who suddenly stop taking dagga. Those who are light weekend users seem to have no withdrawal symptoms at all.

In recent years there has been a worldwide campaign to legalise marijuana for medicinal purposes - especially to help with pain control in cancer patients.

(Health24, updated 2013)

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