It is well known that, the possession and use of indian hemps is illegal in Nigeria, but despite this it is still one of the commonest illicit drugs abused in the country. Its use can lead to multiple health and psychiatric complications.
Dr Lize Weich, who is a senior psychiatrist and also a lecturer at Stellenbosch University, South Africa says “Although cannabis is viewed as an innocent herb by many, there is increasing concern about adverse health consequences,” .
Many users become dependent on cannabis, it is estimated that about one in nine cannabis users will become dependent, while those who start using it in their teens have
a one in six chance to become dependent. It is also linked to other medical complications, including heart attacks (one study found a nearly five-fold increased risk for this in the hour after use), as well as arrhythmias (abnormal heart
rhythms) and strokes.
Smoking is the most common route of delivery of indian hemps, so it is not surprising that lung problems, like chest infections, chronic bronchitis and emphysema are common
among cannabis users. Cannabis smoke also contains carcinogens (cancer causing agents) similar to that found in tobacco smoke and that may
predispose an individual to lung cancer.
Cannabis use impairs driving ability and users are at a higher risk of car accidents.
Its use in pregnancy has been linked with neuro-behavioural problems in children.
“Furthermore, cannabis intoxication can lead to multiple
psychiatric complications, like panic, anxiety, depression or
psychotic symptoms,” Weich explains. Heavy cannabis use
has been linked to reduced pro-social goal-directed behaviour (when individuals select actions based on their predicted consequences), apathy and diminished drive, referred to by some as the “amotivational syndrome” .
Long-term cannabis use can also affect memory and the ability to process information. The developing adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of cannabis use. “It is the most
common illicit drug used by this group and has been linked with poor educational attainment, dropping out of school, later unemployment and lower life satisfaction and even
with a decline in IQ,” says Weich.
Adolescent onset cannabis use has also been linked to various psychiatric problems in this age group, including an increased risk of developing schizophrenia and an
increased risk of developing – a brain disorder which affects the way a person behaves, thinks and sees the
Although the cannabis plant contains in excess of 400 compounds, the most potent agent is delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC acts by activating the endocannabinoid receptor system, a delicate system that modulates the balance in other neurotransmitter systems, thereby ensuring optimal
functioning of multiple biological functions including learning, memory, stress, appetite, movement and pain
There is some potential medicinal benefit Weich emphasizes that although there are some early
studies that suggest potential medicinal benefit from cannabis use, including relief of neuropathic pain,
increasing appetite and treating glaucoma, there is not yet sufficient evidence to support its efficacy and rule out harms and human trials in this regard is still largely lacking.
She says there is concern about the popular belief that cannabis is “medicinal” and thus “harmless and safe”, especially among children and adolescents. Studies have shown that this vulnerable population’s risk of use is influenced by how safely they perceive a drug to be.
“It is clear that legalising cannabis for medicinal use is an important topic that needs careful consideration. Much more research is required to establish efficacy along with a clear public message highlighting risks, especially among
the youth,” says Weich.