SA’s first legal medicinal cannabis pharmacy is open for business

10 April 2022 - 00:00
By Alex Patrick
Mogomotsi Sekobe does a podcast for the THC Pharmacy, which opened earlier this month.
Image: Alon Skuy Mogomotsi Sekobe does a podcast for the THC Pharmacy, which opened earlier this month.

Medical marijuana has gone mainstream, with three cannabis pharmacies opening this month — complete with their online doctor and chef.

THC Pharmacy, SA’s first legal cannabis pharmacy, supplies card-carrying medicinal cannabis users and is registered with the South African Pharmacy Council and the health department.

THC Africa CEO Kyle Brocklebank said the pharmacy in Glenanda, Johannesburg, supplies two others, CBD Hub in Meyerton, Gauteng, and CBD Emporium in Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal. They opened this month.

Kyle Brocklebank, CEO of THC Africa, centre, in the pharmacy where medicinal marijuana is sold.
Image: Alon Skuy Kyle Brocklebank, CEO of THC Africa, centre, in the pharmacy where medicinal marijuana is sold.

The doctor assists with applying for medical cards, while a chef shows users how to use the herb in cooking.

So far the pharmacy has sold more than 3kg of dried medical flower. “It’s slow because each card only allows for 120g per person a month, which is 4g a day for 30 days,” Brocklebank said. “We’re aiming for around 500 card-carrying members, where we will see around 30kg-50kg of product sold per month.”

He said the pharmacy's educational section advised customers how to become legal medicinal cannabis users.

“The patient then sees a doctor who listens to their ailments and prescribes cannabis with specific doses of CBD [cannabidiol] and THC [tetrahydrocannabinol].” CBD contains no psychoactive chemicals and is freely available, but the use of THC is tightly controlled.

IN NUMBERS

• 120kg: Of cannabis is produced at 14 CBD Full Spectrum facilities each month

• R6,000-R15,600: The price of a tray of cannabis

• 15-30 days: The waiting time for a cannabis medical card

Brocklebank's customers  fill out a document to be given to South African Health Product Regulatory Authority (Sahpra), which is responsible for issuing the cards permitting   medicinal THC use.

The card has the details of the user, the amount they can use and the preferred strain. 

“This space is an educational platform providing assistance for people who may be unsure of how to use cannabis. We are here to remove the stigma of ‘dagga’,” Brocklebank said.

THC Pharmacy works with professor Benny de  Beer, whose cannabis company CBD Full Focus is involved in research & development and education.

De Beer was among the first people in SA to obtain a licence to cultivate cannabis after the government began easing restrictions on the plant. He said those wanting to use cannabis medicinally had to meet the requirements of the Medicines & Related Substances Act  of 1965. 

“That is the approval Sahpra needs to give in order to use cannabis. We tie the whole process together by helping with the application and then selling regulated product,” De Beer said.

He said 60 new patients signed up for medical cards this week alone. More than 100 pharmacies were planned, and their sales could generate R1bn a month in tax revenue for the government, he added.

To date, no cannabis-containing products have received registration approval from Sahpra. As referenced in the scheme rules, unproven and unregistered treatments are not eligible for reimbursement
Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, head at Discovery Health centre for clinical excellence

Sahpra spokesperson Yuven Gounden told the Sunday Times that the crops and laboratories of licensed suppliers were inspected, evaluated and monitored to ensure they were of high quality and safe.

Cannabis is a schedule 7 drug, which means it can only be used medicinally with a permit card from Sahpra, but the regulatory body says consideration is being given to changing this categorisation.

Janet O'Donoghue of the South African Cannabis Community & Regulation Authority, a group that lobbies for “free and fair access to responsible use of cannabis for all”, dismissed  Brocklebank's venture as “part of the monopolisation of cannabis”.

“We don’t support it. The whole country can be liberated and poverty obliterated if we allow free and fair access to the legal, safe and responsible use of the cannabis plant for all.”

For a crop to meet medical-grade standard it is tested to ensure it is not contaminated with pesticides or other harmful products.  Its THC content is also assessed so doctors can prescribe the right strain for patients.

Tracy van der Linda, 35, has been using CBD and THC for three years to treat a range of medical issues ranging from fibromyalgia, a condition that causes pain all over the body, to  epilepsy and high cholesterol. 

“If you are sick you don't want to put anything dangerous in your body,” Van der Linda said of her decision to try cannabis products.

“The old way of doing it was buying from dealers who sometimes would steal from you, and you don't know if they used growth hormone or any other chemicals on the plant.” 

She is now off all her pain medications and uses a cannabis infused fruit juice which has 15mg CBD and 100mg THC.

Rapper AKA, whose real name is Kiernan Forbes, 34, began using cannabis at 19. He has now switched to legal medicinal use to help treat anxiety and back pain.

Forbes, who received a  medicinal cannabis card a month ago, has joined THC Pharmacy's marketing efforts and is a public advocate for both medicinal and recreational cannabis use. “I've been waiting for advances [in the cannabis laws] and now it is legal everyone is joining the movement,” he said.

A Constitutional Court ruling in 2018 paved the way for limited, private use of recreational cannabis.

HELPING HERB

Cannabis is used to treat ailments including spasticity symptoms in multiple sclerosis patients and  anorexia associated with weight loss in patients with Aids. It can also be used for  chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting; some forms of epilepsy;  depression and anxiety; and pain management.