Cannabis aka Dagga

by Voice-Out

Short introduction

Cannabis or dagga, as it’s known in South Africa, is synthesised from the leaves and flowering tops of a plant known as Cannabis sativa. It contains simulative, depressant and hallucinogenic properties.  Cannabis is the drug for which most substance abuse treatment is demanded in Africa and globally remains the most widely-used illicit drug. Dagga is the second most commonly abused substance in South Africa, after alcohol. Many users have their initial drug experience with dagga, after which they often progress onto the use of stronger, more addictive substances. Almost 20 percent of South Africans have experimented with dagga at least once.

The science

The psychoactive compound in dagga is called THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). The body takes about 30 days to clear the THC stored in its cells after last use.


Costs range between R10 for a ‘poke’ (finger-size) and a ‘match box’, R20 for a ‘bankie’ (bank cash bag), R300 for an ‘arm’ (forearm-size), and R400 for a compressed block.

Methods of use

Dagga is most commonly smoked. Methods of smoking include home-made pipes or ‘bongs’, but dagga is also ingested orally by making a brew of ‘tea’ or baking it into cakes. Dagga or the dagga/Mandrax (‘white pipe’/’wit pyp’) combination is more commonly abused in less-advantaged communities.

Paraphernalia associated with dagga use include:

  • home-made hubble-bubbles (bongs) or pipes
  • long or short-stemmed pipes made from glass, wood, ceramics or metal
  • broken bottle necks
  • self-made funnels and water containers made from drinking cans, plastic or glass bottles
  • matchbox coverings, cigarette rolling papers or blunts (cigar tubes) that have been emptied out
  • knives that have become discoloured by heat.

Effects on the user

  • The effect of dagga varies from person to person, and also depends on the dose taken.
  • Effects last between two to four hours.
  • Users may experience feelings of pleasure, warmth, happiness and sociability.
  • Users may lose inhibitions and partake in activities they would not normally undertake when sober − including dangerous activities, which may cause them harm.

Harmful side effects and health risks

Tolerance develops quickly, and the user may include the use of or turn to other ‘harder’ drugs to maintain the initial effects experienced with dagga. Dagga contains more cancer-causing substances than any cigarette, and contains over 400 different types of chemicals.

Adverse side effects include:

  • Memory loss
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Impaired motor skills and concentration
  • Lack of empathy
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased heart rate
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Constant coughing, emphysema and asthma
  • A decline in the body’s immune system, inhibiting its ability to fight illness
  • Long-term use can also result in cancer of the mouth, lungs and throat, lung disease and damage to the reproductive system.


Withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, panic attacks, depression, feelings of being unable to cope with day-to-day tasks, hopelessness, aggression and severe mood swings.

Overdose potential

There is no potential for fatal overdose from dagga use. However, an escalation in cardiac rate increases the risk of suffering a heart attack.

Dagga and the law

Dagga is an illegal substance in South Africa, which is controlled under the Drug and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992. The manufacturing, dealing, use and/or possession of dagga are unlawful. A person convicted of an offence under this Act could face a serious fine, or even imprisonment. If a person is found to be in possession of dagga exceeding 115 grams, that person may be charged with possession of drugs and dealing in drugs.

Street names

Dagga | Boom | Pot | Dope | Splif | Grass | Weed | Ganja | Rooi Baard | Transkei Colly | Swazi Gold | Zol | Skyf | Mabange | Imya

The legalisation debate

The legalisation of illicit drugs such as cannabis for medicinal purposes, has taken effect in 18 US states. This however poses many other forms of concern relating to cannabis and prescription drugs. The first is that those people being prescribed cannabis legitimately may well sell on their supplies to others, using their cash to buy harder drugs such as heroin or crack cocaine.

When it comes to the debate of the ‘harmlessness’ of cannabis, it is undisputed that cannabis can be linked directly to mental health problems. According to the Institute of Psychiatry in the UK, after a study conducted over 15 years, it was shown that young people at the age of 15 using cannabis are four and a half times more likely to suffer significant mental health problems by their mid-twenties. Others say that cannabis is a natural product, so how could it be harmful? The counter argument is that the death-cap mushroom is also natural –yet the poison in one cap is enough to kill a healthy adult!

Another argument for legalisation is that with so many regular dagga users in South Africa, why not legalise it and focus the attention on the ‘real’ criminals. Essentially what this argument is saying is that if enough people are doing something illegal, that we should legalise this activity. If that logic were true, it could be safe to ask why we don’t legalise drunk driving since it happens so often. The other consideration is that if cannabis were legalised, it could, as a gateway drug, well open the way for easier accessibility to it and people moving onto harder drugs after they have tried it. The psychological aspect is also important. If people believe using cannabis is acceptable, they may well feel that participating in other crimes and using other drugs are acceptable too.

Another issue to consider when discussing legalisation is that prescription drug abuse itself is escalating at an alarming rate. It was reported that during 2009, more people died in the US from prescription-drug related overdoses, than vehicle accidents. As with any drug, illicit or prescribed, dependence may occur in certain individuals.

One of the debatable factors may include the effectiveness of controlling the illegal purchase of prescription drugs. Prescriptions provide for a certain quantity of a substance, for a certain period of time. The body becomes more tolerant of substances taken frequently over a period of time. The user then begins to need larger more frequent doses to have the same effect. The prescribed quantity may therefore not be sufficient anymore, and this may again result in the substance being purchased illegally, via the Internet, on the streets and in many other ways.

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