Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Cannabis addiction: A Colossal Mental Health Problem in the Community

by Dr. Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D. 

Cannabis is an illicit and also dangerous drug. According to Police reports cannabis usage in Sri Lanka is increasing. A large number of people use cannabis day to day basis in rural and urban areas. Many consider cannabis harmless and also an Ayurvedic preparation that causes 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 society.

Serious adverse effects of Cannabis have been reported. Among the adverse effects of dependence on Cannabis, adolescent developmental problems, permanent cognitive impairment as well as the 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 schoolchildren indulge in this dangerous 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 it's called ” cone” “joint” Mala (flower) or rocket. This subculture attracts more and more young people to the inner circle.

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

Madana Modaka is an Ayurvedic preparation that 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 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 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 problems caused by cannabis abuse. This is a huge financial burden to a country like Sri Lanka.

How to deal with this acute social problem? Health workers as well as law and enforcement officers need to work actively. Community awareness about the ill effects of cannabis abuse play a vital role. Educating the public about this dangerous substance is a key issue. In the meantime, we need to address the users and help them to quit. Counseling and psycho-social support are essential in this aspect. We have to advance the treatment measures and do wider screening in the community.

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

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

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