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Green Medley – Medicinal Cannabis

by | Holistic Living, Print Articles, Spring 2022

Druids conjure up images of long-bearded men, dressed in mediaeval wardrobes, tinkling bottles and meandering through the woods to find their sought-after flowers, roots and herbs to make their secret, natural healing tinctures.

Today secrecy is a thing of the past, now licensed growers of cannabis can freely grow their crops in the open in South Africa’s warm, sunny climate. Discover what the chief executive of Druids Garden, Cian McClelland – who is a qualified Inyanga or traditional doctor – and his team of South African cannabis farmers are mixing in their modern-day pots.

“We have been using a cannabis asthma pump for seizures because you’re not smoking so it’s a lot healthier; it’s dispensed to people for quick relief of pain, fits and all sorts of things. We are primarily interested in extracting the cannabinoids, which are made into medicines.”

The global cannabis market is projected to be worth 200-million US$ by 2030 and in South Africa, it’s valued at 28-billion rand, with the potential to create 10 000 – 25 000 jobs.

Medicinal cannabis farming

Cian McClelland’s dream of owning a health and wellness company became a reality when he met Simon Verrall and they combined their visions in a small country town less than an hour outside Johannesburg. Druids Garden opened in 2017 along the banks of the Hennops River Valley, offering traditional African and Asian medicines.

Four years later, Druids Holdings, the parent company of Druids Garden, was accredited with a full medical licence from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to grow medical cannabis for export. And it’s not an easy process, due to stringent regulations and high set-up costs.

“A lot of legislation is constantly changing. The government, as well as financial institutions, face several new obstacles, which makes it difficult to get things done. For example, just today, we received an export permit for a shipment to the French Government Research Institution that took seven weeks. It was supposed to take five to seven days.”

But law making hasn’t dampened the ‘green rush’ a year after medicinal cannabis farming was legalised in South Africa; four companies applied for licences to cultivate and export medicinal marijuana in just one month.

Depending on the season, Druids Garden has between 17 and 30 people working on site each day. They have two hectares of outdoor cannabis growing that require fertile soil and long daylight hours to produce optimum levels of cannabinoids (the active ingredients) in the resin of the flower. The main objective is to grow cannabis with low levels of THC (the psychoactive ingredient) outdoors, which is possible because of the cooler conditions.

“Druids Garden is allowed to process the non-psychoactive cannabinoids from the cannabis Sativa plant on site, which are used for traditional medicine and then the delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (9-THC), which is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, is sent overseas for extraction. You have to have the right licences for that, so we export that to Europe and Israel or we send it to licensed extraction facilities,” says Cian.

With only one outdoor season each year, Cian and his team are under immense pressure in autumn. But he’s no stranger to stressful situations, having worked for more than three decades in the live events, television and agriculture industries, which has equipped him to become a key player in this sunshine industry.

The cannabis export market

By 2023, the industry in South Africa is projected to be worth R28-billion; however, it’s still hard to enter if you don’t have the capital or backing of investors – and banks aren’t exactly an option since cannabis is still illegal in South Africa under the  Medicines and Related Substances Act despite some changes to the law. Shaad Vayej, legal associate at the law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr says that South Africa is sitting on a gold mine.

“But we are still waiting for legislation in order to go ahead with the mass roll-out agriculturally.”

African Druid – an Inyanga

Cian’s lifelong passion for Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS)  and African traditional medicine, in particular, motivated him to become a traditional doctor or an Inyanga. Over the past 30 years, he has received training from IKS leaders in the country.

“An Inyanga specialises in medicines made from plants and animals, while a Sangoma is a diviner that prescribes medicine made by an Inyanga. I’ve been working with traditional healers since the late ’80s, with traditional medicine, music and dance since 1989 and only in the last five years have we really put a focus on cannabis.”

Cian has a heart for dance and music which has motivated him to become a founding member of the African Cultural Heritage Trust (ACHT), the annual Zindala Zombili African Music & Dance Festival and the South African Music Industry Council.

Cannabis medicinal products

Today, consumers can purchase hemp health products in most retail stores. Druids Garden  and other natural healing online stores have remedies for ADHT, anti-anxiety, anti-bacteria and anti-depressant products as well as cannabis oils (CBD) for humans, cats, dogs and horses. The benefits of hemp oil are endless: Oil for skincare, anti-ageing and eczema. “Topical creams, oral liquids, suppositories, capsules and a variety of different end products can be used. It is the active ingredients in the flower that does the good.

Cannabidiol (CBD) oil

THC gets the most attention, but another natural healing compound found in cannabis is cannabidiol oil (CBD), which can have a calming effect. Researchers are actively researching CBD for its benefits in anxiety and pain.

Cannabinoids mimic our body’s chemicals

Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant; the most popular is the psychoactive, THC. The active chemicals in medical cannabis are similar to those that our bodies produce to regulate appetite, memory, movement and pain. The National Library of Medicine reports that endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout our bodies, including our brains.

“So whether you’re a creationist or evolutionist or whatever, it doesn’t actually matter, we are built and designed to consume cannabis as a nutritional supplement and as a medicine. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have these cannabinoid receptors running right throughout our bodies,” says Cian.

Protecting indigenous heritage

The cannabis flower is exported, processed and manufactured and the products are sold back to South African consumers at exorbitant rates, says Cian.

“the models we work on teach cultivation, extraction, processing, manufacture and distribution. So basically communities can derive the full benefits of a plant that they have been persecuted for growing for hundreds of years, when, in fact, it is a very important part of their medicine.”

In South Africa, The Cannabis Development Council of South Africa (CDCSA) is the watchdog ensuring subsistence farmers are kept in the loop when it comes to reaping the rewards and protecting the pure strains of cannabis cultivars.

During downtime, Cian keeps busy by staying connected to the cannabis industry, offering mentorship and advice to traditional rural communities.

“We assist them to own the full value chain. However, what is happening is another colonial model, whereby international investors come in with lots of money, buy up small companies and then pay rural communities to grow them.”

By sharing their experience and knowledge, Cian and his team are encouraging the best practices for the envisioned mass roll-out of cannabis as an industry, in both hemp and medicinal products.

And it’s clear that Cian has put back more than he has taken from the land and the people of South Africa.

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