Exploring the Roots: The Healing Power of Khoisan Cannabis Traditions

San elder embraces San youth

In a world where modern medicine and ancient practices continue to converge, the Khoisan of South Africa stand as custodians of a rich heritage. My journey to South Africa’s Cannabis Expo, the largest of its kind on the African continent, had a specific agenda: connect with Indigenous wisdom and gain a deeper understanding of cannabis beyond its contemporary, Western-centric narrative.

The Sacred Plant of the KhoiSan

The Khoisan have inhabited the Southern African region for tens of thousands of years as hunter-gatherers (San) and pastoralists (Khoikhoi). They have a vast knowledge of plants. Cannabis, or “dagga,” holds a special place in their cultures. I wanted to learn how this ancient community uses cannabis in their daily lives and rituals.

A Legal Landscape in Transition

The legal status of cannabis in South Africa has significantly transformed. This marks a pivotal shift in its perception and use, as well as creating openings for legal commerce. On September 18, 2018, the Constitutional Court made a landmark ruling. It decriminalized the use and cultivation of cannabis for private purposes. This decision set the stage for the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill introduced in August 2020. These legislative changes reflect a societal shift, initiating a dialogue on integrating traditional practices with modern law.

The Tradition of Healing

My quest for knowledge has led me to learning about traditional doctors of the Khoisan. In conjunction with other native plants, they harness the power of cannabis in their healing modalities. Since the 1970’s there has been a synthesis of the Rastafari tradition and KhoiSan healing traditions, which is a testament to the resilience of Indigenous knowledge in the face of colonization. This fusion of ‘bush ethnomedicine’ offers an alternative model of health care, grounded in community, spirituality, and connection to land.

Personal Discovery Through Traditional Bush Medicine

Just over a week ago I sustained a muscle strain, which was made worse with a long flight. Having flown over 24 hours to arrive in ǁHui ǃGaeb (Cape Town), I found myself seeking relief from the discomfort. An indigenous bush medicine stand at the expo offered a remedy in the form of a tonic – the relief was almost immediate. The tonic was comprised of various native ingredients such as: Buchu; Mountain Garlic, Cancer Bush, Wormwood, as well as being infused with cannabis native to South Africa, that was also rich in CBG and CBD. It took just 40 mins for me to be completely alleviated of all pain.

Khoe Cure's Herbal Tonic

CBG: A Cannabinoid with a Difference

Cannabigerol (CBG), unlike its more famous relative THC, is non-psychoactive and comes with a promise of pain relief, anti-inflammatory properties, and potential neuroprotective benefits. My personal experience with a CBG-rich concoction was nothing short of miraculous, offering not just physical relief, but a reminder of cannabis’ power to heal. I was told that the cannabis acts as an amplifier to all of the other ingredients.

Khoe cure team
Khoe Cure team (Megan & Reggie) preserving traditional medicines

Reflections on a Journey

The Khoisan, with their deep connection to the land and the cosmos, remind us that cannabis is more than a commodity—it’s a gift of nature that can heal, unite, and enlighten.

As we navigate the global discourse on cannabis, it’s important that the wisdom of the Indigenous peoples are at the forefront of the debate. The path forward is not just about legalization but about recognizing and integrating the profound cultural and medicinal values that plants like cannabis hold.

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