Monday May 19 2014

Opium affects mental health

By Haruna Nyanzi

As I was preparing to write this piece about cannabis use, I was by coincidence alerted to a recently published paper about a study conducted on the prevalence of cannabis residues in psychiatric patients in Uganda. Amongst other findings, the paper notes that 21 per cent of the psychiatric patients who took part of the study- the largest of whom where aged between 20 to 29, had a history of previous exposure to cannabis.

These findings though not particularly surprising to any experienced mental health practitioner, are a cause for concern especially for a country with limited psychiatric resources.

Its public knowledge that the smoking of cannabis (or as loosely referred as ‘ganja’, ‘weed’, ‘enjaga’, ‘kibaba’ etc) is becoming prevalent today. This is not helped by the fact the people considered as idols- the ‘celebrities’ are promoting its use by portraying it as ‘cool’. If only the effects of cannabis smoking were well known to the masses, I doubt it would still be considered attractive or as an alternative means to self-medicate, as some do.

There are some reported benefits to cannabis smoking. Some talk of its calming effects, whilst others discuss its ability to lift their mood. It’s also used medically in exceptional circumstances due to its pain relief capabilities. However it’s the potential damage to one’s health that receives the least publicity.

Cannabis is considered a ‘gateway drug’ especially when used frequently due to many of its users progressing to harder drugs like cocaine, heroin and other substances. Reports further suggest that contrary to perceived benefits of its use, students who smoke it get lower grades and are more likely to drop out of school. This has been attributed to its ability to cause learning and memory impairment.

Other reports also cite the abuse of cannabis as a risk factor for psychosis. Indeed the study citing 21 per cent of psychiatric patients in Uganda as having had previous exposure to cannabis residue is in itself a point for reflection.
Indeed evidence further shows that tar from cannabis cigarettes contains 50 per cent more cancer causing carcinogens than tobacco.
Let us not forget that contrary to common perception, frequent use can lead to addiction.