The Malawi Government uses what is called the drug scheduling system. Under the Dangerous Drugs Act (Cap 35: 02) of the Laws of Malawi, there are three schedules of controlled substances known as Parts which weigh a drug’s medical value and its abuse potential.
A controlled substance is therefore placed in its schedule (Part) based on its medical value and potential for abuse. In Malawi, a medical value is typically evaluated based on scientific research particularly large-scale clinical trials conducted in western countries.
Abuse is considered to be a case whereby individuals consume a substance on their own initiative (without prescription from a licensed medical practitioner), leading to personal health hazards or dangers to society as a whole.
Under this scheduling system as stipulated in the Dangerous Drugs Act, Part 1 and 2 drugs are considered to have literally no medical value and high potential for abuse. Part 3 drugs are recognized to have some potential for abuse but enormous medical value. Hence the general public is allowed to access and consume Part 3 drugs only with a prescription issued by a licensed medical practitioner.
It may be helpful to think of the scheduling system as made up of two distinct groups: nonmedical and medical. The nonmedical group is the Part 1 and 2 drugs, which are considered to have no medical value but aren’t numerically ranked based on abuse potential. The medical group is the Part 3 drugs which are recognized to have some medical value.
Cannabis and raw opium are Part 1 drugs while prepared opium is in Part 2. So the Malawi Government considers cannabis and opium (raw and prepared) to have a potential for abuse and no medical value. Hencethesedrugsmustalways bekeptawayfromthereachofthegeneralpublicandevenmedical practitioners/researchersonthegroundsthatthesedrugsareexceedinglydangerous June 2015.
Whereasmedicinal opium, medicinal cocaine and medicinal morphine are Part 3 drugs.
In contrast, alcohol and tobacco are exclusively exempted from this scheduling system.
Alcohol and tobacco are the deadliest drugs not cannabis
- Alcohol is currently the second deadliest drug in USA. It is topped only by another legal substance called ‘tobacco’ which in USA alone causes anastonishing500,000 deaths each year
- No other drugcomes close to the staggering fatalities of alcohol and tobacco. Heroin, which has consumed widespread media attention in the past few years, was linked to fewer than 9,000 death in 2013 in USA.
- Marijuana, another drug that Malawi Government including some health practitioners have persistently warned that it is alarmingly dangerous to individuals and society has caused zero overdose death globally in the past thousand years!
Anomaly with Malawi Government’s scheduling system
Unlike Industrial hemp (one variety of cannabis), besides containing tetrahydro cannabinol (THC) a psycho effect compound which makes people high when they smoke, marijuana as another variety of cannabis (distinct from industrial hemp) also contains a compound called cannabidiol (CBD). CBD possesses amazing and enormous therapeutic properties. Unlike THC, CBD is also medically proven to be non-psychoactive.
Just because it is associated with cannabis (particularly the marijuana variety), as far as the Dangerous Drugs Act is concerned, CBD remains illegal to possess or use as a medicine, and nearly impossible to use in clinical trials.
Hence the classification of cannabis as Part 1 substance is grossly inappropriate.
Key recommendations/Way forward
- Other than bundle all varieties of cannabis in one basket, at policy and legislation levelthe distinction must be clearly drawn between the following two varieties of cannabis namely:
- Industrial hemp: which is a raw material and contains little or no THC hence one cannot get the pleasure of smoking it to het high.
Despite long prohibition of all varieties of cannabis in Malawi, over 20,000 scientific studies published within the last 10 years have overwhelmingly confirmed that industrial hemp actually contains enormous economic and nutritional values.
There are new technologies which allow Industrial hemp as a raw material to be processed into bio-degradable plastics, construction materials, car/air craft body parts, clothing, oil, fuel, food, ropes, paper and many more important items.
- Marijuana: which has high levels of THC that makes one high after smoking but also contains CBD which has enormous medicinal properties;
- At both policy and legislation level, Industrial hemp must be appropriately recognized as an agricultural/cash crop owing to the enormous values it has as a raw material;
Despite believing that this would lead to a rise in use among teenagers, research carried out by Dr Deborah Hasin, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, and her colleagues dismissed these concerns, according to their paper in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.
After analysing data from a national study called Monitoring the Future, which collects information from 50,000 pupils aged13 to 18every year, they found there had not been a rise in use.
Dr Hasin said: “Our findings provide the strongest evidence to date that marijuana use by teenagers does not increase after a state legalises medical marijuana. Rather, up to now, in the states that passed medical marijuana laws, adolescent marijuana use was already higher than in other states.”
- At both policy and legislation level, marijuana must then be re-scheduled (not legalized whole sale) from being Part 1 substance to Part 3 owing to its enormous medicinal values which have been unearthed by overwhelming scientific research.
- Prepared by Paliani CHINGUWO for purposes of discussion at a Proposed Seminar on Cannabis-Chancellor College.