Thu | Jul 18, 2019

Ethon Lowe | Ganja: Holy or Unholy

Published:Thursday | September 20, 2018 | 12:00 AMEthon Lowe/Guest Columnist
Balli Vaswani in the UTECH Ganja (lab) farm.

Ganja, the weed, cannabis, pot. To the Rastas, it's the holy herb given to them by God. They believe that it grew on the grave of Solomon and, you guessed it, gave them and, presumably, other smokers of the weed the gift of wisdom. Shouldn't we derive some benefit from their collective wisdom? Alas, we wait in vain for those pearls of wisdom from our Rastas. Wisdom from the other weed smokers may not be a good idea. Here's why: According to the National Council of Drug Abuse, 75 per cent of prison inmates use marijuana. Paranoia and psychosis are the early side effects of the weed, which can lead to antisocial behaviour, including stealing money and lying. Furthermore we are told that 'shottas' (gunmen) frequently get 'high' on the weed before going on a rampage. Clearly, marijuana does not make us good, solid citizens.

Private medical doctors and psychiatrists will tell you that ganja is often implicated in young patients with mental problems. I can recall that an especially violent patient saw it fit to rearrange my office furniture (without my permission). Recently, a 14-year-old girl with acute psychosis after consuming a ganja-laced drink was brought to my house. A 2014 Northwestern Medical study of teen marijuana users shows shrunken memory cells in the brain and a decrease in the number of neurons. In older age groups, after 21 years, users generally do not experience the same type of brain abnormalities.

The holy herb is not that holy. Marijuana causes addiction, both physically and psychologically (people develop tolerance to it and therefore require progressively higher doses to achieve the same effect and experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop smoking), but less than tobacco and alcohol. Other side effects are heart damage, stroke, chest infection, infertility and a decrease in motor responses and reaction time while driving.


'Jamaica, no problem'


You would expect Jamaica to have one of the highest percentages of marijuana smokers in the world. Surprisingly, Iceland has the highest (18 per cent), compared with Jamaica at the bottom of the top 20 (7.12 per cent). I suspect, however, that Icelanders are more disciplined and responsible users than Jamaicans. The Bob Marley lyric "Everything's going to be alright" and the tourism slogan 'Jamaica, no problem', seem to reflect a culture of degeneracy lacking in sound values, and an escape from reality. An escape that marijuana seems to offer. How often you hear employers complaining of lazy, indolent employees not showing up for work?

Jamaica became the first country to legalise marijuana use for religious purposes and, in 2015, decriminalised cannabis. Having less than two ounces is considered a petty offence that will not go on one's criminal record. Government making it legal doesn't make it good for you. In fact, alcohol, which is legal, is more dangerous. It has no approved medical use, and it contributes to violence, neurological impairments, cirrhosis of the liver, and death. In the past, the fact that people were being prosecuted and imprisoned for using marijuana while alcohol remained a stable commodity was surely a reductio ad absurdum of any notion that our drug laws were designed to keep people from harming themselves and others.

Marijuana has emerged from its dark and disreputable past to become the source of an established drug or drugs with proven medical properties. The medical benefits are due to the cannabinoids, mainly THC ( Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is known to cause the 'highs' and reduce nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing cancer treatment. CBD has anti-inflammatory, anti-epileptic and neuroprotective properties. Lab and animal tests suggest that it could even protect against diabetes, certain types of cancer, arthritis, and brain damage as a result of a stroke.

Ganja is here to stay: The Rastas are the chosen people, bequeathed by Jah to receive the holy herb. For the common people, happiness is being with their spliffs. And the technocrats and entrepreneurs, licking their chops, are laughing all the way to the bank.

- Ethon Lowe is a medical doctor. Email feedback to and