Molly, Arizona, Cush, Coke, Loud, 420, Edibles…if these words are unfamiliar to you, we’ll be happy about your relative innocence. A vast majority of our youths are quite familiar with them and I’m not talking of their dictionary meanings.
These all refer to various types of illicit drugs now commonly available and used by our youths. Marijuana ( 420) is now widely accepted and used by our youths(1). Smoking marijuana is more common than smoking cigarettes. While many youths may not be dead caught with a cigarette, they are avid marijuana users and experimenters. My own generation’s mothers old school advice of “ if you smoke cigarettes you will soon start smoking hemp”, to discourage us from smoking cigarettes does not ring true today. What’s scary is that, it is as common amongst girls as it is with boys. These drugs are also presented in exotic forms such in cakes , sweets, chocolates and even vegetable stew! ( efo riro) -that makes it even more socially acceptable.
This is but one example of the various drugs in circulation. The hard drugs like cocaine, heroine and various mixes of met-amphetamines are also widely available. A young man once told me of an elite party he went to in Lagos and claimed that everyone there was “high on different stuff” and he specifically said it was not even marijuana.
Many wonder at this seemingly sudden onslaught on our youths and what might have brought it on. The usual suspects are fingered- irresponsible parenting, degenerating society, unconcerned governance and of course the fall guy for all human troubles -the Devil.
A more careful analysis instead is needed. For one it is not a “sudden” onslaught. It has been happening gradually over the last 15-20 years. Mainly due to
-Lax enforcement of applicable laws. Nigeria actually has stringent laws governing the possession, use and importation of illicit drugs but from border controls to local policing there are serious lapses despite reasonable strides made by the NDLEA
-Technology advances and transfers make it easier for motivated individuals to set up rudimentary drug production labs in small enclosures like a room in a residence anywhere in the metropolis. Weed can easily be cultivated in almost any backyard in western Nigeria because of the weather.
-By far the biggest reason is general acceptability. Marijuana is no longer treated as an illicit drug in much of the western world. Since we are predominantly western influenced, invariably it’s seen as progressive thinking to accept its use. This general acceptability is a problem that transcends our country, culture and politics. It is one that many countries are facing head on in either decriminalising marijuana usage or taking a harder stance. It’s still instructive to note that even where there’s general acceptability of marijuana usage, possession of other hard drugs are still criminalised.
Should we seriously start thinking of decriminalising? Should marijuana be treated no different than cigarettes and alcohol ( age limits, warnings and appeals to responsible usage) ? The jury is out and will still be for a while.
A fair assessment would start with a look at its effects. Both the western acceptable marijuana and the generally still condemned harder drugs.
Hard drugs ( cocaine, heroin, met-amphetamines) are extremely detrimental to physical and mental health. Addictions lead to longer term medical ailments and overdose cases often leading to death, as addiction leads to ever increasing dosages of usage. They destroy lives physically (health), destroy livelihoods (materially) and destroy families (socially), the very fabric of our society.
For the more acceptable marijuana there are studies that show it is worse than cigarettes in all the effects on the body (2). It contains a greater number of poisonous substances compared to cigarettes (1-1). Smokers might inhale as much as 2000 different chemicals, many of which are detrimental to the body. Minor effects such asanxiety, increased heart rates, depression, sleeplessness are easily overlooked but effects such as promoting negative behavioral changes that impair good judgement could result in situations like rape, dangerous sexual practices, uncontrolled violence – all leading up to crimes and some cases serious crimes. (3) Mental derailment, cultism, lack of motivation, the list is endless. It is a door opener, it is not an innocent recreational drug. Long term studies show a shrinkage in the brain of those who regularly take marijuana (4). Smokers could suffer as much as 50%-70% more cancer substances than with smoking cigarettes. One major research showed that a single cannabis dose could cause as much damage as five sticks of cigarette.
Even in the generally acceptable western climes, medical science is still in consensus in condemning its use. In these countries there are associated increases in psychiatric disorders, suicides, and hospitalizations. (5) It’s dangerous to health.
What then is the panacea of this multidimensional problem that is currently plaguing our youths in this country? The way out is definitely not to hide ourselves like the proverbial ostrich, we all have a part to play.
-For parents we need to have serious discussions with our wards. The bent of which should not be towards condemnation or legalism but rather realism. Help them realise the dangers involved and build up their self confidence to be able to resist the pressure to conform. Even if there is experimentation (it need not be) it should not become an addiction. This statement might sound alarming but human nature for what it is, can be curious. Frankly speaking, how many people that are reading this and are not cigarette smokers can say they have never had at least a puff in their lifetime?
-For the students we must learn to be confident enough to say NO. One of the things adulthood teaches us is that after the initial teases by peers your stance becomes respected. In University I had a friend who did all the partying like the rest of us but NEVER abused alcohol despite all the teasing he was subjected to. Guess who was the designated driver whenever we went out? They can do it around you but not pass it to you as they respect your stance . (You should also seriously reconsider why you are even hanging around those who do it).
-For our administrators we seriously have to start considering the questions of legalisation or more stringent enforcement. We have to engage our policy makers and political office holders. Just keeping quiet does not make the problem go away. It’s already too big.
(1) Cannabis Normalisation Among Young Adults in a Nigerian City- Emeka W Dumbili,Journal of Drug Issues,Vol.50,Issue3
(2) Marijuana and Lung Health- American Lung Association
(3) Volkow ND, Baler RD, Compton WM, Weiss SRB. Adverse health effects of marijuana use. N Engl J Med. 2014;370(23):2219-27
(4) NIDA. 2021, April 13. What are marijuana’s long-term effects on the brain?. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-
(4) UNODC World Drug Report 2022