Ganja: youth and truth

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Yvonne McCalla Sobers GUEST COLUM­NIST Yvonne McCalla Sobers is a writer, ed­u­ca­tor, hu­man­rights ac­tivist, and aquapon­ics farmer. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­ and sobersy@ya­

JA­MAICA’S ‘TALK Di Truth’ pub­lic-ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign on youth and ganja use was launched on Septem­ber 13. Some speak­ers at the launch used terms and voiced opin­ions that youth may ques­tion if they were pay­ing at­ten­tion. For ex­am­ple, why use the name ‘mar­i­juana’ rather than ‘ganja’? Will teach­ing of ‘facts’ re­duce ‘abuse of the sub­stance’?

What is the ba­sis of Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion, Youth, and In­for­ma­tion Ruel Reid’s state­ment that use of ganja has caused many promis­ing youth to fail? How much re­liance can be placed on Jus­tice Min­is­ter Del­roy Chuck’s “im­pres­sion” that more young per­sons have taken up ganja use since de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion? On what data does he base the prob­a­bil­ity that ganja use de­stroys minds? And what is the source of Health Min­is­ter Dr Christo­pher Tufton’s claim that ganja is a gate­way to hard drugs?

If Talk di Truth is to be cred­i­ble to youth, those as­so­ci­ated with the pro­gramme need to:

Re­fer to the plant as ‘ganja’, the Ja­maica name orig­i­nat­ing in In­dia. ‘Mar­i­juana’ is a US slang with a con­tro­ver­sial his­tory linked to racism and stigma. ‘Ganja’ and ‘cannabis’ have been around much longer and have a far more pos­i­tive his­tory than ‘mar­i­juana’.

En­sure the pro­gramme is grounded in re­al­ity rather than knee-jerk re­ac­tion based on prej­u­dice and out­dated or in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion. Over­stat­ing will turn off the youth.

Re­frain from re­peat­ing what youth can prove to be lies, de­ceit and fake news. To­day’s youth can fact-check in­for­ma­tion in real time.

Ac­knowl­edge that youth may know scores of their Ja­maican el­ders who have smoked ganja for a life­time with­out suf­fer­ing long-term brain dam­age. Some of th­ese per­sons could well be re­spected pub­lic fig­ures. At the same time, youth who are vul­ner­a­ble need to be iden­ti­fied and helped.

Avoid stat­ing as ab­so­lute the po­si­tions that sci­en­tists have not yet fully proved. For ex­am­ple, there is no con­sen­sus among sci­en­tists on causal links be­tween ganja and psy­chosis, ad­dic­tion, drugged driv­ing, and poor aca­demic per­for­mance. If two things hap­pen at the same time, it does not nec­es­sar­ily fol­low that one caused the other.

Ques­tion ‘ev­i­dence-based plans’ where ‘ev­i­dence’ may be based on junk sci­ence, the ‘war on drugs’ phi­los­o­phy, or re­search funded by phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal and al­co­hol com­pa­nies.

Clar­ify risks and ben­e­fits of ganja, point­ing out that all drugs (in­clud­ing over-the-counter and pre­scrip­tion drugs) carry both risks and ben­e­fits. It is im­por­tant to note fac­tors that gen­er­ally make for higher risks as­so­ci­ated with ganja use: younger age, poverty, school fail­ure, fam­ily or so­cial prob­lems, house­hold vi­o­lence or abuse, phys­i­cal and men­tal con­di­tion, poor im­pulse con­trol, in­creased amount and fre­quency, as well as time and place of drug.

Show that le­gal or il­le­gal drug use is on a con­tin­uum from ben­e­fi­cial to harm­ful, and many le­gal sub­stances (such as sugar, al­co­hol, and to­bacco) are more harm­ful than ganja.

As­sess the link (if any) be­tween ganja use and drop­ping out of school. There may be fac­tors such as gen­der, clas­sism, per­son­al­ity traits, school pol­icy, and un­der­fund­ing of schools, un­friendly and dys­func­tional ed­u­ca­tional sys­tems that may be more likely to lead stu­dents to drop out of school, even where there is no ganja use.

Treat as ten­ta­tive the re­search so far on the im­pact of ganja use on learn­ing and mem­ory. Ef­fects are said to be short­term. When a re­cent Ja­maican study was con­ducted, users were asked to smoke ganja within 24-48 hours of be­ing

tested for learn­ing and mem­ory. The im­pli­ca­tion is that the ef­fect of ganja on stu­dents’ learn­ing and mem­ory de­clines over time.

Re­view claims about ganja use and brain dam­age. It must be noted that even caf­feine has an ef­fect on the brain, and that the ef­fect of ganja on the brain is so far shown to be min­i­mal and re­versible for most users. But about one in five per­sons is likely to be more vul­ner­a­ble than oth­ers, es­pe­cially if that per­son is un­der 18 years old.

En­gage youth in prob­lem­solv­ing and de­ci­sion-mak­ing ac­tiv­i­ties (not lim­ited to ganja use) that help them to bal­ance risks and ben­e­fits and im­prove judge­ment, and de­crease risk of harm. Youth tend to­ward high­risk be­hav­iour. They have been com­pared to car with a fully func­tion­ing gas pedal (crav­ing for good feel­ings) but with in­ad­e­quate brakes (in­abil­ity to as­sess con­se­quences and act ac­cord­ingly). Youth need help in mak­ing de­ci­sions based on sound judge­ment.

An­a­lyse how strong or en­dur­ing are the mo­tives for ganja use: Cu­rios­ity? Self­es­teem? Life chal­lenges? Stress re­lief? De­sire to fit in, es­pe­cially at par­ties? Chronic men­tal or phys­i­cal health prob­lems? Ab­sence of con­nec­tions or mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ships in their lives? Need to get out of them­selves in an at­tempt to cope with prob­lems that seem be­yond their con­trol? Mo­tives will vary from per­son to per­son.

Put to rest the be­lief that

ganja is a gate­way drug. Avail­able data show that ganja users (hu­mans, not rats) do not nec­es­sar­ily go on to us­ing harsh and deadly drugs like co­caine or heroin. Even pro­hi­bi­tion­ists no longer de­fend the the­ory that ganja is a gate­way drug.

Dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween youth who use drugs and youth who have drug prob­lems. Many youth who ex­per­i­ment with ganja never de­velop harm­ful pat­terns of use. In ad­di­tion, prob­lem pat­terns of drug use may be signs that life chal­lenges are over­whelm­ing youth.

In­clude tips for safe ganja use. For ex­am­ple, youth un­der age 18 will need to avoid ganja use while the brain is de­vel­op­ing, and par­tic­u­larly where they have a fam­ily his­tory of men­tal­health prob­lems. Youth over age 18 who choose to use ganja will need to go low and slow, buy ganja from trusted sources, opt for the least po­tent ways of con­sum­ing ganja, stay away from, and not drive, a car or op­er­at­ing ma­chin­ery for at least four hours after us­ing ganja. Youth will also need to know what to do or not do if they go be­yond their lim­its and have a bad ex­pe­ri­ence. They need to have truth that ad­dresses their re­al­i­ties and keeps them safe.

Talk Di Truth, there­fore, needs to help youth to nav­i­gate ter­rain with which adults may be un­fa­mil­iar. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion needs to in­spire youth to share their per­cep­tions of, and at­ti­tudes to­wards, ganja use. Youth will be quick to see through adults’ words, get to mo­tive, and de­tect signs of hypocrisy, es­pe­cially from adults with al­co­hol and to­bacco habits. Rigid­ity, lec­tur­ing and judge­men­tal com­ments will cloud the mes­sages of the pro­gramme.

To com­ple­ment the talk in Talk Di Truth, gov­ern­ment min­istries will need to ar­range for safe spa­ces where youth can en­joy life with­out re­ly­ing on ganja use. With des­ig­nated spa­ces to hang out with friends, lis­ten to mu­sic, surf the In­ter­net, play sports, and ac­cess coun­selling where needed, youth will ‘feel good’ while re­in­forc­ing be­hav­iours that strengthen so­cial bonds and con­trib­ute to learn­ing, health, and well-be­ing.

Youth need all the help they can get to as­sess risks, think through con­se­quences, and iden­tify al­ter­na­tives that help them to feel whole. Talk Di Truth will, there­fore, suc­ceed if it is ori­ented more to ad­dress­ing needs of youth than ac­com­mo­dat­ing fears of adults.

Youth who turn to ganja as a crutch need sup­port in re­flect­ing on their lives, see­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties, iden­ti­fy­ing what they want, and mak­ing the de­ci­sions that will en­able them to achieve their goals.


In this July 19 file photo, a phar­ma­cist reg­is­ters a bag of le­gal mar­i­juana as he sells it to a cus­tomer at a phar­macy in Mon­te­v­ideo, Uruguay. The coun­try is chang­ing its mar­i­juana sell­ing sys­tem be­cause banks were mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for phar­ma­cies to sell pot as had been planned. A gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial said Uruguay will set up shops to sell pot for cash and avoid the prob­lems faced by phar­ma­cies.

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