Columns

The 'new' way of life with drugs

Barbara
Gloudon

Friday, September 21, 2018

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A few days ago I was listening to a radio programme which focused on young persons and the use of drugs. I'm not talking about the kind handed over by a trained professional who has to receive doctor's authorisation as is required by the law. I'm talking about the kind still on the illegal list.

The radio programme which drew attention revealed that young people were not afraid to speak publicly about drug use. The young voices responded to the interviewer in a very open way. They did not hold back in talking about how they used drugs, ganja (marijuana) in particular, on a regular basis, while attending high school and continued the use into university.

The female who was being interviewed made casual mention of first using ganja, as well as cocaine, while she was a student at what was referred to as a “prominent high school”.

With the decriminalising of small amounts of ganja it is now commonplace to see “big-head spliffs” being lit up in full view of adults and authorities, cops among them. A friend told me that he and his spouse attended a recent charity run in which hundreds of people took part supporting the cause of raising funds while taking on the benefits of embracing a healthier lifestyle. He remarked that right there, in the broad daylight, surrounded by school-age children, families with babies, grandmas and grandpas, a young man of no more than 25 years was puffing away on his spliff. After all, this is a new age; ganja free up now!

A representative of the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) revealed findings from a survey that 70 per cent of the population reported to have “easy access to ganja”. A large number of the respondents who were surveyed believed that “ganja should be used for scientific research, or medical and therapeutic purposes”.

The views on ganja and the use of other drugs have changed. It was said that drug use is not the big taboo that it used to be. This makes it challenging for the NCDA to spread the word about the deadly effects of drug use. But, as my friend said, “Not everybody who smokes ganja can handle it.”

It has also been noted that it is not one age group alone which breaks the law and can pay the price. Drug abuse happens in all ages and sections of the society; from uptown to downtown, rural and urban. But the millennials aren't seeing drug use the way their parents and grandparents did.

The NCDA revealed that the average age reported for first use of ganja is 16 years of age. It also found that alcohol use still outpaces other substances, with 70 per cent of the population having used alcohol at some point. We are in a new time, a new world, and we will have to find new ways to get the message out.

There is evidence of medical marijuana aiding in various types of illnesses. Jamaican Dr Henry Lowe has been exploring the benefits of marijuana and is keen on furthering his research. Let us not forget the ground-breaking treatment for glaucoma which was developed from marijuana. Internationally, there have been studies conducted on how “the weed” can help cancer patients and those suffering from seizures and other serious ailments. The concern, however, is how marijuana affects some people, especially the young.

Other scientists have seen evidence that ganja users can have reduced memory cells in their brain. There are people who suffer from paranoia and psychosis brought on by smoking ganja. The Drug Abuse Council study here in Jamaica discovered that “one in six men drive under the influence of alcohol and illegal drugs”. Could this be playing a part in the many horrific traffic crashes which we see on our roads?

There is a push to develop the medical marijuana industry in Jamaica. In fact, an international conference on the topic is to be held in Montego Bay next week. Movers and shakers in the marijuana world will be discussing the possibilities of developing the industry here in Jamaica. How will we balance the serious talk about economic benefit and growth and the concerns for those who misuse the drug?

Another matter for another time, is whether the small farmers will have any place in an industry in which everyone expects to get rich rewards.

Drug-taking is a serious matter for both the legal and the illegal stuff. Currently, areas of the United States have been plagued with the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs. Although we don't seem to have that issue here in Jamaica, there are occasions in which legal drugs are misused. There was a recent story of how members of the organised crime division of the police swooped down on a particular pharmacy in town and arrested the staff for selling drugs without a prescription. We will hear more about that as the case make its way through the courts at some point in time.

Question: Are parents paying attention to what their offspring have to say about ganja? Will this free-for-all atmosphere complicate things for some of our youth who will pass exams but show little interest in growth and a willingness to become a successful spirit?

Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

gloudonb@gmail.com.

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