Why Mario Ambrosini hoped to legalise medical marijuana in SA

In February of this year, the late Mario Ambrosini uttered some chilling words during the state of the nation debate. “I was supposed to die many months ago and I am here because I had the courage of taking illegal treatments in Italy in the form of bicarbonate of soda and here in South Africa in the form of cannabis, marijuana or dagga,” he said.

Ambrosini committed suicide on August 16. He had had lung cancer and was suffering through immense pain. One thing that did help him was medical marijuana. But how?

Well, it’s all in the chemistry. The marijuana plant contains several compounds, including cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which have different effects on the body.

Marijuana is not used to treat cancer directly but rather to assist with pain management, to prevent nausea and to increase appetite. Medical marijuana has also been used by patients with multiple sclerosis, HIV and those suffering with anxiety and post traumatic stress disorders.

Smoking isn’t the only way to consume medical MJ. Marijuana preparations, which are made up of different ratios of CBD, THC and other extracts, are available by prescription in several countries, including Canada, the UK and Sweden.

You can vapourise medical marijuana to inhale fumes, make edibles with marijuana butters and oils, and make tonics, which can be applied directly to the skin, sprayed into the mouth or dropped under the tongue.

Ambrosini told MPs that he never smoked marijuana but rather used an extract of THC oil, which he administered rectally.

‘Hash’ and ‘wax’, collected from resin in marijuana plants can also be compressed into small blocks to be eaten, smoked, or added to tea, edibles and other medical marijuana products. Some take it in good old tea, made by infusing cannabis leaves and stems in boiling water.

But no medicine is perfect; just as some classes of antidepressants may lift your mood but ruin your sex life, opiates – the category into which marijuana falls – may control pain but can also be addictive and constipating. All drugs are poisons, or so the saying goes; it’s just a question of what dose you’re taking.

In February, Ambrosini tabled the Medical Innovation Bill, which sought to make provision for innovation in medical treatment and to legalise the use of cannabinoids for medical purposes and for beneficial commercial and industrial use.

“This Bill wants to remove the problems created by the law, creating a space in which doctors can follow the dictates of their professional experience in cases where there is nothing else better to be given,” he said at the time.

So what’s the hold up? Ambrosini was no stranger to doing innovating things in Parliament, and was a credible MP. In November 1992 he drafted the Constitution of KwaZulu/Natal and is acknowledged as having being the main architect of the South African immigration reform process from 1996 to 2004.

Ambrosini is no longer with us, so the future of the Bill is now uncertain. But his determination to see such legislation passed was clear; in late 2013 he wrote: “In Parliament, I have called upon our government to host a serious centre of alternative and integrated cancer therapy. No other social issue could be more pressing.”