Wed | Jan 27, 2021

Ganja making more youths psychotic

Published:Monday | June 15, 2015 | 12:00 AMAnastasia Cunningham
Dr Winston De La Haye, addiction psychiatrist.

With an alarmingly high percentage of youth having psychotic episodes from ganja abuse, the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) is now rolling out a national public education strategy specifically targeting the younger population.

In fact, Jamaica's leading addiction psychiatrist, Dr Winston De La Haye, said he was seeing an increasing number of young patients experiencing ganja-related health problems following February's passing of the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015 (also referred to as the Ganja Reform Law), which took effect on April 15.

"Part of what we (NCDA) are doing now is a study to measure the usage to get an exact number for a comparative following the relaxation of the laws. However anecdotally, I am having more young patients coming to me with their parents saying that their children believe the new laws give them the right to smoke ganja, so that's what they are doing," De La Haye, deputy chairman of NCDA, told The Gleaner.

"The reality is that I am coming across some very serious cases of the negative effects of smoking cannabis, and at a higher rate than before. Although I am treating adults with this problem, a significant percentage are youth, and a lot are under 18. In fact, I am getting patients as young as 10 years old."

He added: "I'm seeing patients every day, even on a Sunday, from morning till evening. So I am seeing the dangers upfront, first hand. When you test them for what is causing this psychotic episode, we get a positive result for cannabis. Smoking pure cannabis can make you psychotic, that's just the fact."

Under the new legislation, the personal use of marijuana is now decriminalised. Persons are now allowed to legally inhale the drug in the privacy of their residence if it is not being used for commercial purposes. Additionally, members of the Rastafarian faith are allowed to smoke ganja for religious purposes in locations registered as places of Rastafarian worship. The smoking of marijuana is also legally permitted in places licensed for the smoking of the substance for medical and therapeutic purposes.


However, under the Child Care and Protection Act, youth under the age of 18 are prohibited from partaking in the use of anything dangerous to their well-being, and an adult guilty of facilitating that can face serious penalties.

NCDA's multi-tier public education strategy, which kicks into full gear this week, will not only seek to delay and reduce the use of ganja among young persons, but educate the public and stakeholders on the boundaries of the legislation and an individual's rights and liabilities under the law.

The user-friendly public education campaign, which will be specifically aimed at addressing ganja use among youth under the age of 18, will seek to simplify what decriminalisation of ganja now means and the limitations that the law allows.

De La Haye, who has spent the past 12 years as a trained addiction psychiatrist, said he was not surprised at the increased usage of ganja following the amended law.

"Top of the list of the known risk factors for drug use is availability. And that is the argument around any relaxation of laws in any country. If you relax the law, then the potential for the substance to become more available increases, which would naturally result in increased usage. Everything has a cost. And you have to weigh the pros and cons," he said.

He said he hoped this new programme would serve as a deterrent for the youth, protecting them and other vulnerable persons.

"In reality, it would have been better to do this at least a year before the law was amended, but I guess better late than never. Given the level of development of the adolescent brain, you can't just put rules in place and teach them right and wrong and expect them to comply. They won't. They just have not reached that kind of development in their cerebral cortex, which is the decision-making area of the brain, which allows you to determine if this appropriate or not. Because they haven't. In spite of knowing and hearing from their parents of the dangers, they will still go ahead and experiment," said De La Haye, who is also clinical director of the addiction treatment services unit at the University Hospital of the West Indies.

"That is why you have to protect them with laws, so any deterrent is good."


* An analysis by the NCDA shows that between 2006 and 2011, 47 per cent of clients admitted for treatment and rehabilitation were for issues associated with marijuana/ganja use.

* Ganja was the main drug of impact for which clients sought treatment at all drug treatment centers island-wide – 2013, OAS/CICAD/NCDA.

* Over 95 per cent of the adolescents who are referred from schools and/or through their family network to NCDA offices for counselling were for problems associated with marijuana/ganja use.

[In tomorrow's Health section, see more on NCDA's national public-education strategy as well as a comprehensive look at the health impacts of smoking ganja]