CANNABIS AND MENTAL HEALTH: IS LEGALIZATION IN GHANA A GOOD MOVE?

Updated: Jan 12

The most commonly used drugs have been part of human existence for thousands of years. As new drugs were discovered and new routes of administration developed, new problems related to their use emerged. Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the world, with an estimate 19 million users in 2012. Over the last 30 years cannabis has become a common part of youth culture in most developed societies, with first use now occurring in the mid-to late teenage years.


Cannabis preparations are obtained from the plant Cannabis sativa, which has been used in China, India, and the Middle East for approximately 8,000 years, primarily for its fibers and secondarily for its medicinal properties. The cannabis plant is a member of the nettle family that has grown wild throughout the world for centuries. People have used it for lots of reasons, other than the popular relaxing effect. A popular brand known as ‘street’ cannabis varies so much in strength, it is not easy to tell exactly the feeling it renders people at any particular time after taking it.


At present, cannabis is classified under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as a Class B drug. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has recommended it be reclassified as Class C, meaning that possession of cannabis would no longer be treated as an offence. However, at present, it is still illegal to possess cannabis in some countries.


In the bill passed in Ghana, parliament has decided to incorporate a clause that will allow for the industrial use of cannabis with Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level of not more than 0.3 percent. This is to allow companies producing jute sacks for cocoa and other produce to set up their plants and produce them locally instead of importing them from India and other countries. Was this a good move?


To clear all doubt, there is illicit and licit cannabis. The licit ones have THC of not more than 0.3 percent while the illicit ones have a THC concentration of 75 percent. The plant occurs in male and female forms. The female plant contains the highest concentrations of more than 60 cannabinoids that are unique to the plant. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (1\9-THC) is the cannabinoid that is primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. The most potent forms of cannabis come from the flowering tops of the plants or from the dried, black-brown, resinous exudate from the leaves, which are referred to as hashish or hash. The cannabis plant is usually cut, dried, chopped, and rolled into cigarettes (commonly called 'joints"), which are then smoked. The common names for cannabis are marijuana, grass, pot, weed, tea, and Mary Jane. The potency of marijuana preparations has increased in recent years because of improved agricultural techniques used in cultivation so that plants may contain up to 15 or 20 percent THC.

When you smoke cannabis, the active compounds reach your brain quickly through your bloodstream. It then binds/sticks to a special receptor in your brain. This causes your nerve cells to release different chemicals, and causes the effects that you feel. These effects can be enjoyable or unpleasant.

Often the bad effects take longer to appear than the pleasant ones.


Good/pleasant effects experienced include the sensation of feeling relaxed and over talkativeness. Many people experience a pleasant euphoria and other common effects, which may vary dramatically among different people. They include a heightened sensory perception (e.g., brighter colors), laughter, altered perception of time, and increased appetite. Pleasant experiences with marijuana are by no means universal. Instead of relaxation and euphoria, some people experience anxiety, fear, distrust, or panic. These effects are more common when a person takes too much, the cannabis has an unexpectedly high potency, or the person is inexperienced.


In addition to the above mentioned, cannabis also has adjoining unpleasant effects which include feeling sick/panicky, feeling paranoid or hearing voices, feeling depressed and unmotivated.


If cannabis is consumed in foods or beverages, these effects are somewhat delayed—usually appearing after 30 minutes to 1 hour—because the drug must first pass through the digestive system. Eating or drinking the substance delivers significantly less THC into the bloodstream than smoking an equivalent amount of the plant. Because of the delayed effects, people may inadvertently consume more THC than they intend to.


Unfortunately, some people can find cannabis addictive and so have trouble stopping use even when they are not enjoying it.


Using cannabis triggers mental health problems in people who seemed to be well before, or it can worsen any mental health problems they already have. Research has shown that people who are already at risk of developing mental health problems are more likely to start showing symptoms of mental illness if they use cannabis regularly. For example, people with a positive family history of schizophrenia are at higher risk of developing a mental illness after they consume cannabis.


A younger age increases the risk of developing a mental illness further, because their brains are still developing and can be more easily damaged by the active chemicals in cannabis.


The amazing fact is, some people start to show symptoms of depression, paranoia and hearing voices on cessation of cannabis. However, not everyone will get better just by stopping smoking.


If you go on using cannabis, the symptoms can get worse. It can also make any treatment that your doctor might prescribe for you, work less well. Your illness may come back more quickly, and more often if you continue to use cannabis once you get well again.


Some people with mental health problems find that using cannabis makes them feel a bit better for a while. Unfortunately this does not last, and it does nothing to treat the illness. In fact, it actually delays them from getting the help they need, further deteriorating the prognosis of the illness in the longer term.


If you are at all worried about the effect that cannabis might be having on your mental health, talk to somebody about it. This could be friends, family, or any professional such as: a doctor or nurse, a teacher or school/college counsellor, a youth counsellor or a social worker.

There are lots of people who can help you decide whether you do have a problem, and what you can do about it. However, if you don’t talk about it, you are unlikely to get help.


Mental health problems generally do get better if you treat them quickly. Things that you can do in the meantime to help yourself include: having a day without cannabis, avoiding bulk buying, avoiding people, places and activities that you associate with cannabis use and not using it if you are feeling sad or depressed.


People with cannabis use disorders, especially adolescents, often also suffer from other psychiatric disorders (co-morbidity). They may also use or be addicted to other substances, such as cocaine or alcohol.

Available studies indicate that effectively treating the mental health disorder with standard treatments involving medications and behavioral therapies may help reduce marijuana use, particularly among those involved with heavy use and those with more chronic mental disorders.


Behavioral measures employed in treating the disorder which have shown promise include cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management and motivational enhancement therapy.


Treatment of cannabis use rests on the same principles as treatment of other substances of abuse - abstinence and support. Abstinence can be achieved through direct interventions, such as hospitalization, or through careful monitoring on an outpatient basis by the use of urine drug screens, which can detect cannabis for up to 4 weeks after use. Support can be achieved through the use of individual, family, and group psychotherapies.


Education should be a cornerstone for both abstinence and support programs. For some patients, an antianxiety drug may be useful for short-term relief of withdrawal symptoms. For other patients, cannabis use may be related to an underlying depressive disorder that may respond to specific antidepressant treatment.


If you would like to get started right away, you can join our online support group where you can read, share and learn from our worldwide community of members at any time of the day or night via the member log in page. Listening to stories of people who have sailed through their experiences would motivate you to quit your smoking habits.


Get help before it is too late, because the world needs a better you to get better.




Eliezer.


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