Doing hash? Think again

Published: February 17, 2014
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When using marijuana, in any form, a user usually feels high and buzzed. Other effects include psychosis, euphoria, a feeling of relaxation, increased sensuality and triggering of abstract and philosophical thinking. PHOTO: AFP

During the first week of January 2014, I was surprised to read three different news stories about marijuana – Washington became the first American state to legalise sale of marijuana for adult recreational uses, Sahiwal police seized a truck carrying hash worth 650 million rupees and Uruguay is now the first country in the world to legalise marijuana trade. 

Usually, anti-narcotic laws are not strictly enforced in Pakistan when it is comes to hashish (hash) and other drugs of the same family including marijuana (charas), cannabis, weed, garda and bhang. These drugs are widely available in Pakistan and almost anyone who wants them can get them from a local dealer, without much of a hassle.

Marijuana is extracted from the leaves of the plant Cannabis Stavia. The plant is native to Pakistan and grows in wild woods. Charas is a common local word for marijuana. Garda is its most pure form, free of additives; it has a stronger effect. Hash is the concentrated resin of the female plant flowers. Bhang is made by grinding the leaves of the plant and either drinking it with milk or baking them with thin chickpea flour cakes called ‘papard’. There are other preparations of marijuana but these are the most common local products available in Pakistan. The active medical ingredient present in the plant, with its psycho-stimulant properties, is called Tetrahydrocannabinol.

I remember as a medical student I knew many student doctors who smoked weed. Many times I smelled the strong distinctive spicy aroma of burning weed and tobacco in the hallways of the hostels, on athletic fields and on the roof tops of the campus. Most of us were extremely tolerant towards its use. It was considered ‘cool’ to smoke weed and everyone who used it knew all the medical advantages of marijuana. Surprisingly, few of those medical students had ever smoked a regular cigarette. Every summer, when we would travel to the Northern areas in Pakistan for hiking and sightseeing, we would be offered weed by a porter, guide, driver or the clerk behind the desk at an inexpensive motel.

When using marijuana, in any form, a user usually feels high and buzzed. Other effects include psychosis (lack of realisation of reality), euphoria, a feeling of relaxation, increased sensuality and triggering of abstract and philosophical thinking. These effects usually do not last for more than a few hours but the drug can be detected in urine even a month after its use.

Cannabis (marijuana) consumption is a risk factor for development of Schizophrenia. There are reported problems in memory and learning and its use may cause cognitive deficits in heavy and frequent users.  Cannabis intoxication includes impaired muscle coordination, anxiety, poor judgment and social withdrawal along with reddening of eyes and other worrisome symptoms. Discontinuing the prolonged use of cannabis use can result in anger, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, depressed moods, abdominal pains, chills, headaches, etcetera. These are not life threatening events and can, in most cases, be controlled with medication.

For centuries, marijuana has been used in spiritual and mystic experiences as well as medical uses. In medical practice, the use of marijuana includes treating nausea and vomiting due to cancer chemotherapy, pain and muscle spasms. In short, there is a growing movement in the world for legalising marijuana use. Different websites promote marijuana use and provide information about where and how to buy marijuana in almost any big city in the world. I was surprised to see the current prices of marijuana in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, which had been posted a day before my recent online search. The websites also included detailed notes about the quality of the product.

According to the 2013 joint report from the Ministry of Narcotic Control Pakistan and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, marijuana was the country’s most commonly used drug. 6.4 million people or nearly six per cent of the adult population of the country used weed. Prevention is better and easier than treatment when it comes to managing addictions. Pakistan is extremely deficient in trained physicians who can treat addiction and effectively run detoxification or rehabilitation centres.

There is a severe stigma associated with drug use and this prevents people from getting the necessary psychiatric help to get rid of substance addiction. In contrast, it is relatively easy to prevent drug use by educating the public through awareness campaigns, especially young adults. Seminars and awareness camps in different academic campuses could be a good starting point as many students think that using hash is no big deal and not that harmful.

Hassan Majeed (MD)

Hassan Majeed MD

The author is working as a child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, NY. He is a marathon runner and his interests include art, culture, travel, gender, human rights, mental health, and education. He tweets @HassanMajeedMD (twitter.com/HassanMajeedMD)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.