legislation prohibits the cultivation, possession and trade
in cannabis in South Africa. This page is being posted for information
purposes only and is not to be interpreted as support on the
part of the National Botanical Institute for amendment to the
You may call it a 'zol, grass, skyf, kaartjie, pill, sense of knowledge
and Kentucky laughing grass' and nobody will understand you, but
call it dagga in South Africa and suddenly you are understood.
is a native of Asia but is now cultivated in many countries and
is naturalized in southern Africa. It is an erect, annual herb of
up to four meters in height. Stems minutely hairy, green and ribbed
with hollow internodes. Leaves alternate and palmately compound.
Leaflets sessile, three to eleven with toothed margins. Leaf stalk
up to 50 mm long. The male and the female flowers are tiny, greenish
yellow and borne on different plants. Seeds are spotted, 4 mm in
diameter, smooth with netted veins.
There are three varieties recognized; var. sativa, var.
indica, and var. spontanea. The var. sativa is
tall and loosely branched with large leaves. It is grown for fibre
and seed oil. Leaflets are five to seven and narrowly tapering to
each end. This variety commonly referred to as hemp has very low
yields of intoxicating cannabinoids.
The var. indica is shorter, harder with crowded branches.
It is used as medicine and mood-altering drugs. Leaflets usually
many, tapering towards the base and relatively weaker. Fruits large.
The var. spontanea is small with small leaves. Leaflets small and
much longer than broad with regular rounded ends. Fruits small.
Cannabis is widely distributed in southern Africa, var. sativa
occurring in Botswana, Limpopo, North-West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga,
KwaZulu-Natal, Lesotho, Western and Eastern Cape; var. indica
in Mpumalanga; and var. spontanea only in Northern Cape.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Cannabis is said to come from the Greek word, kannabis,
the Arabic word, kannabi, or the Persian word, kannab.
The word dagga is a Dutch pronunciation of the Hottentot word, dachah.
This vernacular name indicates the long use of this plant in southern
Marijuana seed is dispersed by wind and water. It is adapted to
different habitats. Deer, birds, beetles, leaf-eating larvae and
slugs feed on the plant.
Uses and cultural aspects
It is used as a remedy for asthma, bronchitis, headache, flu, epilepsy,
cough and pains. In modern medicine the crude drug and some pure
chemical derivatives are used for treating migraine, epilepsy, malaria,
glaucoma, nausea from chemotherapy, for improving appetite in patients
with cancer, AIDS, and anorexia nervosa, and for suppressing muscular
spasms in multiple sclerosis (B.E. van Wyk 2000).
The fibre (often referred to as hemp) is used to make serviceable
textiles and cordage and is grown as a crop in some countries for
this purpose. Clothes made of it are longer lasting than those made
of cotton and linen. The fibre is more rigid than glass fibre and
is used instead to reinforce the plastic component in vehicles.
It does not cause environmental problems on disposal.
Most people smoke dagga for pleasure since it induces
hallucination. Prolonged smoking of dagga causes pulmonary ailments,
affects the central nervous system and can result in permanent mental
Growing Cannabis sativa
It is cultivated from seeds. As its cultivation is illegal, it
is usually secretly grown in impenetrable bush with no accessible
footpaths in mountainous areas. It grows easily in fertile, warm
spots if it receives adequate water. Dagga is regarded as a self-seeding
weed, as its seedlings are often found in smoking areas, kraal sites
The cultivation of this plant is illegal and severe penalties including
imprisonment may be imposed.
References and further reading
- Henderson, M., Fourie, D.M.C. & Wells, M.J. 1987. Declared
weeds and alien invader plants in South Africa. Department
of Agriculture & Water Supply. Pretoria.
- Kirby, R.H. 1963. Vegetable fibres. Interscience Publishers,
- Van Wyk, B-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants.
Briza Publications, Pretoria.
- Van Wyk, B-E., Van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N. 1997. Medicinal
plants of South Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
- Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwiyk, M.G. 1962. Medicinal and
poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. Livingstone,
Edinburgh and London.
National Herbarium (Pretoria)