Cannabis addiction: A Colossal Mental Health Problem in the Community

By Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D.

"I will not be a slave of any appetite." - Lord Byron

(April 13, Ontario, Sri Lanka Guardian) Cannabis is an illicit and also a dangerous drug. According to Police reports cannabis usage in Sri Lanka is increasing. A large number of people use cannabis day today basis in rural and urban areas. Many consider cannabis is a harmless also an Aurvedic preparation which cause no harm to the human body.

This is totally a misconception. The empirical findings indicate that cannabis abuse can cause severe psychological as well as sociological ill effects despite this misconception. Drug awareness as well as health education is needed to eradicate such misconceptions in the society.

Serious adverse effects of Cannabis have been reported. Among the adverse effects dependence on Cannabis, adolescent developmental problems, permanent cognitive impairment as well as development of psychosis are evident. Prolonged use of cannabis can lead to depression, lack of volition and a history of gradually deteriorating social ability and contact with others. People who are addicted to cannabis suffer from very poor memory and concentration.

Cannabis usage is drastically increasing among the youth. The most pathetic scenario is even school children indulge with this dangers substance without knowing the consequences. Cannabis related subculture is forming in our country. In order to popularize and de-stigmatize the usage various funny names are used to indicate cannabis smoking. Often its called ” cone” “joint” Mala (flower) or rocket. This subculture attracts more and more young people to the inner circle.

Beetle chewing is no long a traditional habit among the elderly. Nowadays even young people chew beetle gum with some preparations which contain cannabis. The law and enforcement is not powerful enough to tackle this type of illicit trade. Therefore venders continue their business near schools and public places.

Madana Modaka is an Aurvedic preparation which contains cannabis. Young people are attracted to these preparations in order to achieve higher sexual function, increase body mass etc. But medical experts clearly specify there is no such action in these preparations but the mental and physical damage.

Cannabis usage is widely spreading in our community as a result of low awareness, peer pressure, and sometimes as a negative stress coping method. Very often tobacco smokers are attracted to cannabis. Therefore tobacco addiction can be considered as a risk factor.

Cannabis addiction can lead to various mental health problems.

The Psychiatrists point out a number of dysfunctions associated with cannabis abuse. These are …

(1) Apathy and sedation

(2) Disinhibition

(3) Psychomotor retardation

(4) Impaired attention

(5) Impaired judgment

(6) Poor self care

Cannabis use may increase the risk of psychotic disorders and result in a poor prognosis for those with an established vulnerability to psychosis. In addition prevalence of cannabis use is higher among people with psychosis in our country. This is one of the hidden and acute problems in the community. There is a growing significant link between cannabis use and vulnerability to psychosis. This condition is known as cannabis induced psychosis.

Psychosis is a generic psychiatric term for mental states in which the components of rational thought and perception are severely impaired. Persons experiencing a psychosis may experience hallucinations, hold paranoid or delusional beliefs, demonstrate personality changes and exhibit disorganized thinking. Cannabis use may also precipitate a latent psychosis. Cannabis use can trigger psychotic episodes in a person who already has a mental illness. The Government has to spend a huge amount of money to treat people with mental health problemse caused by cannabis abuse. This is a huge finacial burden to a country like Sri Lanka.

How to deal with this acute social problem? The health workersas as well as law and inforcement offices need to work actively. The community awareness about the ill effects of cannabis abuse play a vital role. Educating public about this dangerus substance is a key issue. In the mean time we need to address the useres and help them to quitt. Counseling and psycho social support is essential in this aspect. We have to advance the treatment measures and do wider screening in the coomunity.

Empowering the legal framework is another important measure. Those who sell cannabis and the preperations which contain cannabis should be punished dispite their social status or political backings.

It is essential to understand the demage caused by cannabis abuse in our society. The problems will agravate more if we do not address these issues. After all prospective futere of this country will depend on better mental health.