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It may be time to accept Marijuana

Written by Sylvester Ikhisemojie - Nigeria

Dr. Sylvester Ikhisemojie
The spectre of decriminalising various things that we have become used to viewing as abnormal may finally be upon us. In many Western nations, there is a raging debate over the pros and cons of uplifting such a ban on this particular substance. For one, there is no objective evidence that its use contributes significantly to an upswing in crime. There is no evidence either that it is always subject to abuse. In many local farming and mining communities in Latin America, the plants are grown as normally as we grow the bitter-leaf plant here at home, and leaves are abundant in the countryside. As a result, the product is consumed openly in its raw form in those places. The same happens for coca leaves from which cocaine is derived. But let us limit the arguments to Marijuana and agree about its effects on our social relationships. In many places, marijuana is called different names. Some call it 'weed.' Others call it 'gbana.' Yet others call it 'grass' and some still call it 'hashish.' Among the youths, 'igbo' is the preferred name while in urbane circles; the name is properly called cannabis or Indian hemp.

The botanical name is Cannabis sativa and its active agent is Tetrahydrocannabinol, an extract that is in use as a psychoactive substance and is also believed to expand the mind. It is not for nothing that this particular substance has, therefore, not met with the necessary approval in many circles. It is believed that its consumption would lead to an increase in various criminal acts and so is by its nature, an antisocial object. The evidence does not bear this out. In the Netherlands, where there has long being a programme like this where there are recreational bars in which marijuana is a part of the menu, there has been no spike in crime from 1978, when the experiment began, till date. In fact, there was an increase in tourism as a result of this liberalisation with many young people seeking to experience the opportunity to legally smoke hashish.

Now of course, there is talk of recreational marijuana, not any different from the drinking of beer and stout. Not to mention the routine consumption of brandy, vodka and other spirits with far more profound effects on the society.
The main producers of marijuana come from several different continents. It is a flowering plant produced in Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India, Thailand, Lebanon, Turkey, the Netherlands, Spain, Jamaica, Colombia, Mexico, the US, Canada, and Morocco. It is likely also, that Nigeria would be a significant producer of this commodity.
Decriminalising it ensures a transparent trade in it thus positioning it to become yet a significant foreign exchange earner for the nation. Different variants of the plant are also processed to make ropes and hashish oil which are used in various industries. Ropes are often processed from an abundance of fibre known to be produced by other variants of the cannabis plant. Its fibre was one of the first recorded natural suture materials used in surgery. Without the knowledge gained from that early use, much of modern surgery would not have been the way it is today.

Cannabis is often used to produce certain physical and mental effects. It is known to heighten the mood as has been mentioned before. It is used also for relaxation and an improvement in the appetite. The women use it to grow their hair after they have cut it short, often in an attempt to grow a new hair style. Some noted side effects of this drug are dry mouth, impaired motor skills, red eyes, feelings of paranoia and panic attacks, as well as anxiety. When it is smoked, the onset of action begins within minutes and about half an hour when it is eaten. The effects last for between two and six hours depending on how frequently it is used by that individual.

It may also be used as part of religious and spiritual rites and that is probably why its use is so commonplace in the Indian subcontinent and in Latin America. It is used medically to treat muscle spasms. It is used also to improve appetite in people with HIV/AIDS and to treat chronic pain. It is also used to treat nausea and vomiting in people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer and also for certain intractable cases of epilepsy.
From many different places have been allegations of the use of marijuana among the high and mighty. There is no evidence that as a result of the use of marijuana, they were particularly more inclined to commit criminal acts.

In the US, there have been allegations at various levels concerning the use of marijuana. Former President Bill Clinton famously said he took puffs of the substance but did not inhale the smoke. George W. Bush pointedly refused to confirm or deny whether he experimented with the drug while President Barack Obama agreed that he had experimented with it. But then, that is even in an open society. In our own country, allegations such as that one are left in the confines of beer parlours and motor-parks. No one has the courage to ask the person involved to deny or confirm the allegation. All of that is possible because of the cloak of criminality and even mysticism, which surrounds its use. Among our various communities, the overwhelmed police force is unable to curb the use of the commodity because the users are too many.

Very often, they confine their efforts at enforcement to the occasional raid in the hideouts of known miscreants designed to put some weekend money into their pockets rather than a genuine desire to enforce the law. And the youngsters probably only take the stuff to elevate their moods from the chronic poverty that suppresses them.

The use of cannabis has been increasing dramatically in recent years across the world. As at 2015, about half the people in the United States have tried marijuana. The earliest recorded use of cannabis dates back to the third millennium BC. The possession, use and sale of cannabis is deemed illegal in most nations of the world but the United Nations still classifies it as the most frequently used illicit drug in the world. The use of medical marijuana is a subject gaining currency in Canada, Australia, Spain, The Netherlands, Belgium and 23 US states. The demand and subsequent use are certain to grow from the twin headwinds seeking now to make its usage more visible. These are recreation and medical uses.
Only recently, an artisan working for me was found hidden in a room sniffing the substance shortly before he started his assignment for the day. The use seemed only to energise him and he was able to carry on with his physically-demanding work from about 10 in the morning till five in the evening. On previous occasions, he would abandon the unfinished work as early as 2 pm. When I asked him why he found it necessary to take what he was consuming, he told me the use was commonplace in their industry. It is bought and sold openly in many parts of Nigeria and most people look the other way or pinch their nostrils to avoid smelling the pungent smoke until they are clear of the vicinity.

The question then is that if the use is so openly engaged in and the buying and selling of the substance goes on unregulated, what is the point in making it a crime to have it in one's possession? In the last fortnight have also come revelations suggesting that traces of cannabis have been detected in the waist pipe attached to the home used by William Shakespeare. Perhaps, the use of the substance, if proven, may have had a hand in the writing of some of his many seminal works. Did he also recognise the efficacy of the drug in expanding the mind? Only time will make us wiser in that regard but we will do well to note that he was not a criminal.



Dear doctor,
Your help towards humanity is appreciated. God be with you always. Please can you recommend a place where one can do Pap smear in Ibadan apart from UCH? The waiting process in UCH is not encouraging and I would not mind a private screening centre but I have not been able to find one. 

Amen and thank you very much for your prayers. You can go to a private laboratory situated on the University of Ibadan/Secretariat Road, Kongi, Ibadan. Good luck.


Dear doctor,
Our child is 10 months old. He is having hard pooh or faecolith. We have to do physical pumping for effective stooling. We did a scan at LASUTH when he was three weeks old and there was no Hirschsprung's or anything abnormal but up till now, we do the manual assistance. What's the solution? Thanks.

You do need to see a Paediatric surgeon for review. Nothing is final about what has happened in the past that you might have done but I believe that there is a definite problem with your child. I am certain your doctor will recommend that your child should have a rectal biopsy, a minor operation to take a little piece of tissue from the anus, so that it can be analysed in a laboratory by a pathologist. That is what will clinch this diagnosis and help determine what kind of treatment your child should be having.


Dear doctor,
I am a 19 year old. I have this toilet infection which has been in my system for more than five years now. The discharge has become so severe that once I have taken my bath I am stinking again within 12 hours. My father knows about it but he doesn't care because I refused to have sex with him. I don't want him to shatter my dream of entering my husband's house a virgin. However, I heard that infections of this kind, if not properly treated, can result in Staphylococcus or barrenness in future. How true is this? Nnenna 

The concept of toilet infection is a wrong one. The infections are not actually contracted from the toilet but it is an old age belief that has refused to go away. Secondly, there is no truth in the assertion that when an infection such as the one you are describing has stayed for a long time, it will turn to Staphylococcus. However, an infection like this one can lead to infertility and I would urge you to go to the UNTH, Enugu, to see a gynaecologist who would examine you and provide you with the best range of treatment options and advice as well. That will set you free of the smells and the embarrassment from which you now suffer. Do that as soon as possible because you are still very young.


Dear doctor,
I am now 42 years old and I have been bleeding a lot from what my doctor diagnosed as large uterine fibroids. The bleeding can best be described as the flow of water from a tap. I was at the hospital yesterday and my PCV (packed cell volume) was 18 per cent. I have three kids and have been advised to have a hysterectomy. I am afraid of operations. What do you advise?

This is a challenge in a number of ways. You cannot simply continue to bleed like this. The heart will ultimately fail and that will be catastrophic. Secondly, an operation of this nature has to be handled by a trained expert, but you have to be fit enough for this kind of operation. You need a blood transfusion before the operation and that will involve the transfusion of several pints of blood. Once you are certified fit enough, then go to a gynaecologist for that service if your doctor is not one.


Dear doctor,
What does it mean when you are told you have a tumour?

A tumour is an abnormal growth. It may be benign in which case it is not a cancer or it may be cancerous in which case, it is called a malignant disease. A benign tumour generally produces any effect it might have by exerting some local pressure on its neighbouring tissues or organs and so a common effect would be pain or a feeling of pressure among others. As a rule, it does not spread around the body. A cancer is very different though. It continues to grow and causes its effects by not only exerting pressure on structures around it but also by invading its neighbours and also spreading to some distant tissues around the body.


Dear doctor,
I really need your help. A doctor told me that my pregnant wife tested positive for Hepatitis B. He says in addition that there is an injection that she will have to take to prevent the baby from contracting it and the injection will cost us N70, 000 or N80, 000. How true is that sir? Thanks.

There is no such drug yet. I believe somebody is trying very hard to rip you off. What is available is a vaccine for anyone who is judged to be at risk for contracting Hepatitis B and it is given in three doses at intervals you would be advised about. There is no injection that can be given to prevent your unborn baby from contracting this infection from the mother. The sum of money involved is fiction. Do not pay it please.

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