Cannabis Oil in South Africa

Cannabis oils in South Africa are available according to five main cannabinoids. Recent recreational legislation changes have led to positive amendments in the scheduling of marijuana as medicine. Several specific considerations are important to source a reliable product that is pure of contaminants and meets a medical standard.

With the abundance of marijuana products on offer via social media and the internet, those who want to self-medicate are often faced with the daunting task of separating the good from the bad, the mediocre from the exceptional. So much helpful information is available at the click of a button, but we are equally likely to come across misinformation and outright falsities.

At Medical Cannabis Dispensary (MCDSA), we have long prided ourselves as the leader in top-quality medicinal products. Consistency and reliability are our main goals. We aim to properly inform our clients because we acknowledge the value of being armed with the right information to make educated health decisions. This article provides a quick update on legislation, followed by an authoritative five-step guide on how to source the healthiest and best-quality medical cannabis oil.

In this Article

Busting the Myth: Is Cannabis Oil Legal?

Some suppliers will market their products as legal, whilst others will cite imminent legalization and pending licences for growing and manufacturing marijuana and its related therapeutic products. We believe it is vital to bust the myth and nip this in the bud. Allow us to remind you that purchasing any part of this plant or any of its derivatives (oils, balms, etc.) is still a criminal offence in South Africa.

On 18 September 2018, the Constitutional Court unanimously ruled that the personal and private use of cannabis, by adults, would be decriminalized. This meant that the ban on private possession and consumption as well as cultivation of plants for personal use was unconstitutional and infringed on section 14 of the South African Constitution, which gives all citizens the right to privacy. Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, however, emphasised that marijuana may not be consumed in public, distributed, sold or used by minors.

The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, which still needs to be approved by parliament and signed into law, has proposed limits on personal and private adult use, possession and cultivation as well as sharing of marijuana without remuneration. Based on the proposed legislation, the plant will be considered legal. However, its regulation under the MRS Act (Medicines and Related Substances Act, 1965) has already been formally amended. The whole plant, together with its constituents, it is no longer classed as Schedule 7 (drugs not recognised as “medicine”, which have a high potential for abuse).

The gazetted amendments to the MRS Act provide that:

  1. CBD is a Schedule 4 regulated substance. Products that contain up to 600mg of CBD in total, recommend a daily dose of no more than 20mg and make no specific health claims are exempt and classed as Schedule 0 (unregulated, “over-the-counter” or Category D complementary medicines). Furthermore, products intended for ingestion, where plant source material naturally contains 0,0075% CBD in total, are also exempt from Schedule 4 and fall under Schedule 0.
  2. THC is now a Schedule 6 regulated substance, except if the raw plant or its derivatives are cultivated, possessed, shared or consumed by an adult, in private and out of sight. Hemp-derived products are exempt at up to 0,2% THC for industrial purposes only and 0,001% THC or less, when intended for ingestion, are also exempt from Schedule 6.

As it stands, with the assistance of a medical professional, it is possible to apply for access to medicines containing higher contents of THC, under section 21 of the MRS Act. While it may be possible to source hemp-based supplements in South Africa, more effective cannabis medicines, worthy of scheduling status, are not readily available.

As such, persons suffering from challenging health conditions would need to find the strength to go through a lot of red tape – navigating the medical system and dealing with government (not to mention the expenses involved) – in order to be permitted to use registered medicines, most likely imported from abroad. Even then, these products often exist in the form of isolated cannabinoids, which are likely to be less effective than local products, which are healthily extracted from organic flowers and abide by natural, “whole-plant” medicine principles.

In short, South Africa is far behind countries like Israel, the Netherlands and Canada. Even the UK is ahead of us, in respect of getting assistance for children. Knowing that you are essentially breaking the law (albeit for a good cause) when sourcing medical marijuana products is stressful enough. Add to that the difficulty of finding a product that is right for your needs, of suitable quality and from a reputable supplier, and suddenly finding an oil can become a very daunting and worrying task. Ask the right questions though, and this heavy burden may become lighter.

The following considerations will help you to source high-quality cannabis oil that is trustworthy, healthy and able to target a specific medical condition.

5 steps to cannabis oil in South Africa

STEP 1: Cannabinoid Application

The outstanding healing properties of marijuana continue to astound scientists. To date, at least 567 natural constituents have been identified in the plant. The most studied and widely applied for medicinal purposes are cannabinoids, of which over 120 exist.

Impressively, these plant compounds are able to imitate those naturally produced by the body, called endocannabinoids, which are essential for maintaining biological balance and health. Medical cannabis oils usually focus on five main cannabinoids, each with unique therapeutic applications. The first step to sourcing an oil is knowing which cannabinoid best applies to treating the medical condition at hand.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

THC is the primary psychoactive compound that causes a user to become intoxicated or “get high”. THC is able to ease moderate pain (analgesic) and it acts as a neuroprotective agent – reducing neuroinflammation and stimulating neurogenesis. It is commonly used to counteract chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV) and has many other medicinal qualities.

Cannibidiol (CBD)

CBD is the compound with the widest array of medicinal applications. It is non-psychoactive and can, in fact, even counteract the “high” caused by THC. Research has found CBD to be a highly effective therapeutic aid for a wide range of conditions, from arthritis to diabetes, cancer and depression. It is gaining popularity for treating drug-resistant forms of epilepsy, such as Dravet syndrome, and is even considered as the safest option for use in children and pets.

Cannabigerol (CBG)

CBG is known as the “mother of all cannabinoids”, as its acidic precursor is responsible for the production of THC, CBD and CBN, among others. It is found in very low concentrations in the plant but its therapeutic potential is vast – including neurological conditions, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis (MS). Like CBD, CBG is non-psychoactive.

Cannabinol (CBN)

CBN is a mildly psychoactive compound derived from the degradation of THC. Its most pronounced attribute is its sedative effect - hence, its nickname as the “sleepy cannabinoid”.

Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA)

The benefits of the THCA are slowly being discovered but it is already showing remarkable anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and anti-emetic effects. THCA is the precursor to THC, found in its highest concentrations in raw plant flowers. However, unlike THC, it is non-psychoactive.

Products made from high CBD, low THC strains are preferred by medical users who seek to avoid psychoactive effects or who are prone to anxiety. On the other hand, some ailments will require THC heavy strains and others a balanced, 1:1 CBD|THC strain. CBG and THCA also offer non-intoxicating alternatives. The specific condition at hand is always central to choosing the best-suited cannabinoid for effective treatment. Read more about these compounds in Medical Cannabis 101.

Little is known about the complex interaction of cannabinoids and other plant compounds, such as terpenes and flavonoids. However, evidence suggests that these various molecules operate better in combination with each other, than they do in isolation, according the “entourage effect”. In future, the collective synergy of all compounds in different strains will be taken into consideration when treating a particular ailment. For now, the focus remains on cannabinoids, preferably in the form of full-extract cannabis oils (FECO).

STEP 2: Reliable Source

The modern world is rife with disease-causing toxins and chemicals, and the problem starts in our farming practises. When dealing with a health condition, these should be avoided at all cost. Make no exception when seeking to source a reliable product that meets a medical standard.

Growing Conditions

Always remember the phrase “from soil to oil”. Ask questions and make sure that the supplier can tell you which part of the plant their oil is sourced from. High-quality oil is made from the same dried plant material (flowers or buds), that recreational users would smoke or vape. Make sure that only the flowers are used in the production process. No leaves, trimmings or waste material. 

Bear in mind that the marijuana plant is an excellent means to clean the soil it grows in, absorbing nutrients but also toxins. Ideally, you want the supplier to be able to tell you that the source plants are completely free from toxins and chemicals, including heavy metals, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides.

“Organically-grown” is the key phrase here. If the flowers used to make the cannabis oil have impurities in them, like chemical fertilizers and residual solvents, then the health risk associated with those substances increases exponentially. This is no small concern. Studies have shown that over 80% of analysed plant material was contaminated in some way.

Quality Testing

Laboratory testing is not always accessible and the tests that are available in South Africa provide limited information. While it is always preferable to request a test, local laboratories are unable to test for the full spectrum of cannabinoids. Fortunately, they can test for residual extraction liquids, such as alcohol and other solvents, as well as the presence of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. This is why you need to find a trusted supplier and ask the right questions, so that you do not fall victim to poor-quality or even toxic cannabis oil.

STEP 3: Extraction Method

The three best-known methods for extracting medical marijuana compounds from plant materials include Rick Simpson, butane/propane and supercritical CO² extractions. Making a healthy choice is vital.

Rick Simpson Method

Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) gained popularity amongst medical users when Rick Simpson popularised the use of simple solvent washes to extract the desired compounds. These oils are usually highly concentrated in THC. They have been extremely popular with medical users in years gone by, largely due to their DIY (do-it-yourself) nature. Essentially a crude oil of the marijuana plant, RSO is usually extremely potent and there is a risk of residual solvent chemicals still presenting in the finished product.

Butane & Propane Extractions

As the name implies, butane hash oil (BHO), also known as “honey oil”, is usually extracted using butane. These days, however, producers use a variety of light hydrocarbons, of which butane and propane are most popular. “BHO” is simply the term coined. The end-product is generally intended for recreational use as a “dab” or vape concentrate. These oils are known to be very high in THC and very flavourful, owing to high amounts of terpenes. BHO may vary in consistency, from crumbly waxes to glass-like shatters and golden, sticky “honey”.

Supercritical CO² Fluid Extraction

Supercritical fluid extraction, more commonly referred to as CO² extraction, leaves behind no residual solvents. It has become the industry standard when it comes to medical cannabis extraction methods. Carbon dioxide is pressurized until it becomes a supercritical fluid, which is a substance that acts as both a liquid and a gas. The supercritical CO² strips away the cannabis plant’s essential oils in a controlled manner. This allows the final product to retain more terpenes. 

This method requires sophisticated machinery, which is usually only found in a laboratory. The most appealing thing about this process is that it is solvent-free, which eliminates any possibility of toxic compounds being left behind and maximises the overall medicinal potential of the final product. 

When it comes to health, it goes without saying that solvent-free extractions like supercritical CO² are favourable. There are solvent-free DIY methods, like making “cannabutter” or infusing flowers into cooking oils. However, these are associated more with recreational than therapeutic use. Medical cannabis products need to be pure and dosed accurately, which is why purchasing already manufactured products is preferred.

THC, CBD, CBG, THCA and CBN medicinal cannabinoids

STEP 4: Final Product

Besides ensuring that the oil is healthily extracted from organically-grown marijuana flowers, it is also vital that the final product abides by the whole-plant medicine principle known as the “entourage effect”. Hence, for maximum therapeutic efficacy, the final product should consist of full-extract cannabis oil (FECO).


Tinctures are the most popular medical marijuana products. A wide selection of cannabinoids is available in this form. They consist of cannabis concentrate diluted into a carrier substance and are often dosed under the tongue but can be ingested orally. These are primarily intended for medical use and typically disregarded as recreational substances.

To allow for rapid absorption in the mouth, they often include alcohol as an ingredient. However, the healthiest and highest-quality tinctures contain lipids, such as medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), without artificial chemicals or additives. MCT oil has a host of its own health benefits, but its main purpose is to serve as a carrier oil and maximize absorption.

Capsules, Topicals & Suppositories

Some conditions necessitate topical balms as well as highly-concentrated capsules and suppositories. The product choice depends on the specific condition at hand. Suppositories, for example, bypass the liver and allow for extremely high therapeutic doses of bioavailable THC. Vape concentrates are also available, especially for soothing pain and neurological conditions. Remember to always ask about the extraction process.

Colour & Consistency

Syringes full of “black tar” are far from ideal for medical applications. Not everyone is an expert on extractions and some manufacturers are masters of deception. Simply rendering cannabis concentrate into tincture or capsule form does not automatically make it a healthy choice. Oil colour and consistency are significant indicators of quality.

Firstly, saturation of colour is an important. Non-suspecting buyers are often told that cannabis oil should be black. This falsity needs to be addressed. Typically, low-quality oil with more compounds of little therapeutic relevance will be dark and almost black, even when held against a light source. Pure cannabinoid oils are clearer. A yellowish or honey colour is often an indication of good quality, but not always. Anything dark to black is indicative of impurities.

Secondly, one can consider consistency. The oil should be viscous, but not as thick as vegetable oil. Rather you should look for a consistent, somewhat fluid density that does not hold its shape. Of course, many buyers will only get the products once they have been suspended in a carrier fluid.

Carrier Fluid

Always be sure to check what carrier oil or liquid is used to dilute the cannabinoids into the final product. The most popular options include coconut and olive oils, but some use glycerine and alcohol. In numerous tests, MCT oil (from coconut) has come out on top in terms of taste, and its ability to be absorbed and metabolized by the human body. MCT will always be the preferred carrier substance for those who are serious about their health due to its numerous benefits.

Cannabis can also be assimilated into mediums like grape and hemp seed oils, butter and sunflower oil, although these infusions are used more by cooking enthusiasts than for therapeutic purposes. A much higher concentration is needed for medical applications and accurate dosing is important.

STEP 5: Informed Consumer

While we await legislation, any cannabis oil worthy of medical application remains an unregulated and illegal substance. As a user, the responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders to ensure that you are using a product that is both safe and able to render maximum therapeutic benefits.  Do as much research as you possibly can into the different oils available and their main treatment applications – our Knowledge Centre is a great starting point.

Beware of “snake-oil” salesmen and scammers. When sourcing a product, make sure that your potential supplier has an in-depth website and a social media presence so that you can see what others have to say. Use this article as a guide and always ask questions about the origin of the marijuana, the extraction process used and the final product details. If they are unable or unwilling to answer you, insist on more information or look elsewhere.

When starting your medical marijuana journey, falling victim to low-quality products that do not meet medicinal standards can do more harm than good. Never compromise on quality in favour of price and remember that size does not matter. It is the total amount of concentrated cannabinoids (in mg) present in the oil that is important.  Anyone can dilute an oil, which simply means that you would need to take more to get the same therapeutic effect.

An important consideration is the cannabinoid ratio (especially THC:CBD) of the strain from which the oil has been extracted. Knowing the difference between full-extract versus isolated marijuana products is equally important. Always remember that hemp and hemp seed oils are not in the same league as medical-grade products. While hemp-derived products may have nutritional benefits, nothing less than full-extract cannabis oil (FECO) should be used for medicinal purposes - more on this in CBD Oil.

A reliable supplier should be able to offer multiple product types that are available according to specific cannabinoids and that satisfy all of the criteria outlined in this article.

Please feel free to contact us with your questions below or visit our Product Guide for more information on the most-trusted, healthiest and highest-quality products on the market.

All information on this page is subject to MCDSA’s disclaimer.


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