Recent data shows that of approximately 180 in-patients at the National Psychiatric Hospital, two-thirds are there because they are suffering from substance induced psychosis. And of those, nearly three-quarter are recorded as marijuana users. This is according to Senior Psychologist at the Ministry of Public Health’s Mental Health Institute, Balogun Osunbiyi.
The reality of marijuana abuse on the effect of the health of the Guyanese public is striking. In the context of a discourse that has been started by Government’s announced intention to remove custodial sentences for the possession of small quantities of marijuana, Kaieteur News interviewed the Psychologist and Drug Treatment Specialist to determine just how valid the health concerns are, that surround this drug.
The statistics provided by Osunbiyi indicates that nearly half of all the patients at the New Amsterdam specialty hospital have had run-ins with this controversial drug.
In July, Kaieteur News reported that another Drug Treatment Specialist, Phillip Drayton, said that Government must be very careful about the perception it creates in its move to have custodial sentences removed for the possession of small quantities of marijuana. Drayton had explained that the stages of misuse of marijuana lead one to another, like dominoes.
Osunbiyi explained that people use marijuana and other drugs to elicit feelings of pleasure and/or to relieve themselves of physical and/or emotional pain and discomfort, and added that, because the “high” provides a more intense gratification than persons may get naturally,
“The brain can be now hardwired to seek the external introduction of the pleasure seeking principals… You’ll find the addict going back to the drug, because he/she can’t produce that from their own natural self.”
Of even more urgency is a concern about the effect of the drug on young people. There have been reports that children are engaged in wanton drug use in certain schools. Government has been scrambling to ensure the necessary treatment and prevention systems are put in place.
Acknowledging that marijuana use also occurs among developing youth, the Drug Treatment Specialist waxed about how the drug can permanently alter brain cells.
With teenagers, whose brains are still developing, the effect on their lives is dire.
There has been an argument circulating about medical marijuana, and how it can be used to improve mental health. This argument holds no weight in Guyana, according to the Psychologist. He said that the strains of marijuana available in Guyana are in no way medicinal in nature. He provided that, in the last 25 years, the concentration of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis, has increased by 150% in the strains present in Guyana. He added that there are persons in Guyana who are knowledgeable enough that they have been bioengineering the drug to continue to raise the concentration of THC in it.
In what is called medical marijuana, Cannabidiol (CBD), not THC, is the predominant constituent.
“People just want to get high,” Osunbiyi said, but he also said that medical marijuana doesn’t make someone “high”.
While many persons have recently kicked up staunch advocacy for decriminalisation, that advocacy leaves much to be desired, according to Osunbiyi. He acknowledged that decriminalization would serve to keep many innocents out of prison, and keep them from being further criminalised by prosecution. It would also satisfy members of the Rastafarian community, who have demanded that Government decriminalize possession of the drug. Osunbiyi said that some arguments are made that could be perceived as fruitful.
But the psychologist says that his experience with persons who have suffered from their use of cannabis, tells him that expecting decriminalisation to be a cure-all is a fool’s message. Why? Because without the resources and trained personnel needed to effect adequate socio-sanitary care, decriminalisation could devastate the country, said Osunbiyi, who is also a Drug Prevention Specialist.
Pointing to other countries that have decriminalised and are beginning to normalise the use of marijuana, Osunbiyi said that what must be considered is the fact that most, if not all of those countries, are much better off than Guyana, and have the resources needed to provide enough care for the population. In that regard, Guyana’s public health sector would have to rapidly put in place a comprehensive and integrated socio-sanitary care system for drug users at the primary care level, to deal with the negative health impact decriminalisation would cause, by the increased use of this and other drugs.
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