Target the ‘Ganja Babies’ - Urgent focus needed on children using the weed as they face increased mental health risks
For more than four decades, marijuana has been synonymous with Jamaica. It was traditionally associated with the Rastafarian community in Jamaica and is regarded as a herb of religious significance by the Rastafarians and is widely used as a sacrament in their religious ceremonies.
However, the use of marijuana has transcended its traditional use from that of a sacrament for Rastafarians and it is now being used as a recreational drug in mainstream society.
It has assumed both cultural and religious significance and is regarded as a harmless "holy herb" that bestows wisdom on its users.
Marijuana has permeated the society to such an extent that the taboo once associated with its use has her diminished, and this has led to it being more available. As a result of such availability, the "weed" is easily accessible and can be found in the palms of many of the countries' youth (12 to 19 years old), especially those in the lower socioeconomic communities.
With the amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act decriminalising the use and possession of small quantities of marijuana, it is projected that more youth will be using the drug.
Given Jamaica's history with marijuana use and it's so, called powers of wisdom, persons are unwilling to accept the fact that this herb can have any ill affect on one's mental health, and persons who admit to suffering ill effects from its use are seen as weak.
This policy seeks to address the effect marijuana usage has on the mental health of adolescents and outlines options for preventing marijuana usage and reducing ganja- related harms.
THE PROBLEM FACING JAMAICA
1) Smoking marijuana increases the risk of mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia in adolescents.
2) The decriminalising of small quantities of marijuana will only serve to increase the availability and usage of marijuana among the nation's youth, resulting in increased ganja-related mental illnesses.
3) The focus on marijuana is largely on the criminal justice perspective. However, there is insufficient attention being placed on the issue of health, especially the mental health of young persons who consume the drug.
4) Marijuana is the most commonly used drug in Jamaica. Some of the active ingredients in marijuana have been shown to be harmful to the user. they can induce hallucinations, change thinking, and cause delusions.
5) The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) reports that the majority of marijuana users in Jamaica are between the ages of 13-25 years, implying that marijuana use is occurring in the most productive years of individuals' lives.
6) The World Health Organisation (WHO) and (others) have reported that the most prevalent disorder in Jamaica is schizophrenia, which has been increasing yearly between 2009 and 2013. These studies have also highlighted the connection with early usage of marijuana and the increase in mental illness.
7) The National Secondary Schools Survey (2013) conducted islandwide from a sample of 3,365 grades 8, 10, 11, and 12 students, revealed the following:
a) 43.2% reported that marijuana was the easiest illicit drug to access.
b) One in five students who were current marijuana users were at high risk for marijuana misuse
c) Age of first use of marijuana was 12.9 years
d) 30.8% reported that drugs(including marijuana) were available at their school
e) 50.4% believed that drugs, including marijuana were available near school. Students who believed that drugs were available reported significantly higher use than those who did not believe drugs were available in and around school.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is opposed to the use of marijuana. Its position is based the following on:
i. There is no current scientific evidence that marijuana is in any way beneficial for the treatment of any psychiatric disorder. In contrast, current evidence supports, at minimum, a strong association of cannabis use with the onset of psychiatric disorders. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to harm, given the effects of cannabis on neurological development.
ii. The use of marijuana/ganja in young people has been examined in many major studies worldwide. Results on the findings of these studies have differed. Some have found little or no association between marijuana use and mental disorders. Others have found deleterious effects of marijuana usage on mental health.
iii. Longitudinal studies conducted in New Zealand and Denmark suggest that the effects on the brain caused by marijuana probably explains higher rates of psychose.
The findings highlighted above suggest that the effects on the brain caused by marijuana usage can lead to mental disorders.
a) A public education/media campaign (digital, print, radio, and TV) to develop and disseminate effective drug information for youth, parents, and caregivers. At the core of the strategy is essential information about the harmful effects of marijuana use.
i. To bring awareness to the fact that the teen brain continues to develop to age 25, therefore, it is vitally important that teens refrain from marijuana use as this use will affect brain development.
ii. Once youth perceive that marijuana use is harmful and risky, marijuana use dramatically declines.
iii. The longer a child delays drug use, addiction and substance abuse disorders are significantly reduced.
b) Teach life skills and drug-refusal skills focusing on critical thinking, communication, and social competency. This strategy will take on the following options:
i. Engaging families to strengthen these skills by setting rules, clarifying expectations, monitoring behaviour, communicating regularly, providing social support, and modelling positive behaviours.
ii. Encouraging social bonding and caring relationships, with people holding strong standards against substance abuse in families, schools, peer groups, mentoring programmes, religious and spiritual contexts, and structured recreational activities.
The campaign will have an enhanced focus on marijuana use and abuse. In addition to new national-level prevention and demand reduction messaging, the education-media campaign will work directly with communities to amplify the effects of the campaign and to encourage youth participation in the initiative through the help of on-the-ground partner organisations such as uniform groups, youth clubs, and national non-profit organisation devoted solely to the education and development of young people through policy and programme creation.
Since marijuana use has become ingrained in Jamaica's social and cultural psyche, then any policy directed at marijuana reduction must be geared at behaviour modification.
Public education campaigns, whether they are used as a drug-prevention or health-promotion tool, tend to be based on their ability to affect behavioural change.
They have been successfully applied to the reduction of tobacco use and the promotion of road safety and have shown moderately positive results in a number of areas, including the promotion of healthier nutrition, physical activity, participation in screening for breast and cervical cancer, disease prevention, and other health related concerns.
i. First 12 months - 42 per cent improvement in perception of risks of marijuana use by both youth and adults; 50 per cent improvement in the disapproval rates of marijuana use by 12 to 19 year-olds;
ii.Year 3-4 - 70 per cent decrease in marijuana use by youth ages 12 to 19 years; 30 per cent decline in ganja-related mental illnesses.
iii. Year 5-7 - 91 per cent reduction in marijuana use by youth ages 12-19 years old; 75 per cent decline in ganja-related mental illnesses.
Despite the best efforts, some teens will use drugs invariably. Legislative and law enforcement methods offer an alternative to prevent and/or reduce adolescent marijuana usage. At the core of this option are the following strategies:
i. Mandatory counselling and treatment for adolescent found using marijuana.
ii. Mandated community service if adolescent continues to offend.
iii. Mandated prison sentence after the offender has done community service on two previous occasions.
Marijuana is the most widely consumed illicit (pre-decriminalisation in some nation states) drug. It is targeted in one way or another by most prevention interventions. However, few interventions have targeted marijuana specifically. Prevention is typically delivered in the context of wider informational activities and shares a platform with prevention for other substances such as other illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. This policy will be geared specifically at marijuana.
The recommended option of a public education campaign marijuana prevention and reduction programme offers the best alternatives for achieving the stated objectives of the policy.
- This is a heavily edited presentation by Sophia Simpson-Wickham who recently completed an MSc in International Public and Development Management in the Department of Government, UWI, Mona. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org or editorial