What cannabis can do to mental health

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THIS week I have decided to focus on mental health-related issues, in particular the negative effects of marijuana, ganja, mbanje or cannabis.
It has many names. It is available in almost every country. Yet its dire consequences on the brain can be very serious as a result of prolonged use of the recreational drug. In medical terms, it can cause drug-induced psychosis.
Psychosis ‘is a loss of contact with reality’, often associated with delusions, hallucinations, disorganised thinking, feelings of paranoia and suspiciousness and disorganised speach.
Mbanje is fun to smoke. It’s positive effects include relaxation, sleepiness and euphoria. But its negative effects include causing anxiety, confusion, hallucinations, paranoia and psychosis.
When we grew up we used to hear the phrase, ‘Abhema mbanje kauyu, dzinopengesa!’ or ‘Akapengeswa nembanje.’
It is true, yet many young people, and even some adults, smoke mbanje more frequently, becoming dependent on it.
Cannabis contains more than 400 chemicals, but the most common ones are Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9-THC); Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-8-THC) or the THC; Cannabidiol (CBD) and Cannabinol (CBN). THC is a mind-altering (psycho-active) chemical in cannabis. The higher the amount of THC in the cannabis the stronger the feelings of ‘high’.
However, some of the chemicals can also be used for medicinal purposes.
My first encounter with someone who had developed cannabis-induced psychosis was in 2006. I was preparing to go on holiday to Jamaica with my children and one of my son’s friends came to our house, literally in tears. Perplexed, I asked him why he was crying. I thought maybe he had received bad news, but what he said left me confused.
“Amai Robert muri kuenda henyu kuJamaica nemhuri yenyu, ndangoti ndikuudzei kuti ndiri kufa. Rufu rwangu rwauya! I have come to say goodbye to my friend. Pamunodzoka ndinenge ndatofa, pamwe ndatovigwa!” He hugged my son, crying.
I stopped packing, puzzled with what this 19-year-old young adult was saying.
“What do you mean?” I asked. I thought he had been diagnosed with terminal illness, so I asked.
“Aiwa I wasn’t diagnosised with any illness. Pandanga ndichiuya kumba kwenyu ndaitirwa madhokororo neshiri, pahuma chaipo. Saka ndabva ndaona chiratidzo chekuti rwangu ini rwauya. Rufu chairwo!”
(No I was not diagnosed with a terminal illness. When I was walking to your house, a bird crapped on my head. Then I knew my death is imminent).
He broke down and cried even more. We all stood speechless because what he was saying did not make any sense at all. We said goodbye, left for the airport, my son worrying that by the time he came back his friend would be gone, dead. But alas, he was still there 15 days later when we landed at Stansted Airport and took the coach to Coventry.
Since then, he became a regular visitor to our house, coming very early in the morning before we woke up. He became very anxious and paranoid, continuously talking about how his parents wanted to kill him through witchcraft and some bizarre stuff. “Your friend is unwell,” I told my son.
“No, he is ok, he is not unwell. He told me a lot of things about his family so he is not making it up,” my son, also 19 then, defended his friend.
He stopped going to college, believing that he had special powers to change the world. College, or education, was a way of the whites to control people’s brains, he said. The intelligent, bright young man left college with no qualification.
One day I came from work and my son told me that his friend had been taken by the police to a mental health hospital, where he was detained for treatment.
In time most of his friends, who he smoked cannabis with, were in and out of mental institutions diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia triggered by use of cannabis.
My son (and his friends) started smoking cannabis at 15. I would come from work to find the whole place smelling of cannabis. We started arguing. I would tell him to stop smoking cannabis. But his responses made me realise I was fighting a losing battle.
“Ganja is a herb, given to mankind by God so that we become wiser,” he said. “It’s better to smoke herb than to smoke tobacco cigarettes. They cause lung cancer. Ganja only makes you cool and relaxed,” he explained. “At least I am smoking ganja and not taking hard drugs. Most of the young people out there are either smoking cigarettes, cannabis or taking drugs so you should be happy that at least I am doing ganja and not crack (cocaine)”.
He preferred to call it ganja, the Jamaican way.
From that day I watched helplessly as my son and his friends continued to abuse cannabis, sometimes smoking up to £10 worth of cannabis per person everyday. They stopped going to colleges and quit work. They spent most of their time smoking cannabis by street corners and wearing hoodies (hooded jumpers) to disguise themselves from the police. They became suspicious of everything, they called it the ‘system’, or ‘Babylon’.
“Babylon is out to get I and I black people,” they would say.
It became a cat and ouse game with the police. At one time my son was charged with possessing Class C drugs (cannabis), but because it had now been decriminalised in the UK, he got away with a caution after demonstrating that it was for his own personal use.
That was about 10 years ago.
A few weeks ago, when I visited my son in prison, we were talking about his friends, and he told me that most of them had now been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
“It’s caused by ganja, ain’t it?” I asked.
“Yes, some of it. But it’s not always caused by cannabis. But the fact that your friends were abusing cannabis, the chances are high that its cannabis-induced psychosis,” I explained.
He nodded. But it was his last words about it that made me decide to write this article.
“Well, at least when I come out of here, in a couple of years if I behave myself, I will be drug-free. I will be cannabis-free. I will not get this schizophrenia like most of my friends. I am lucky I am here. It will give me time to cool off and become clean again. I am much safer here.”
“Really?”
“Yes mum, it’s a learning curve, ain’t it?”

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