Cannabis sativa is one substance that has been given different names; to some it is “weed”, while others call it “gbanna”. Its other names include ganja, eja, ta shi, wee-wee, igbo and grass. In some places it is referred to as marijuana.
For decades it has been one of the most commonly abused substances in Nigeria. Consumption of marijuana is not limited by age or sex as findings have revealed that it is smoked by males and females from age 12 upwards.
Marijuana is also taken by people regardless of class; musicians, drivers, traders, touts and even students are all engaged in the act. Street Journal’s investigations have shown that its consumption takes different forms, apart from smoking, marijuana is sometimes cooked with food, poured into liquor while in some cases, it is boiled as tea.
One of Nigeria’s greatest musicians, Fela Anikulapo Kuti never hid the fact that he smoked weed. Even when he was arrested by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, he told them on interrogation that weed stimulated his appetite. Even when he died, Fela was buried with a wrap of Indian hemp.
Another late musician whose love for Indian hemp was an open secret was Dr Orlando Owoh. He even sang about weed in Ma wo mi roro, one of his popular albums, “Mama mi ma ma ba mi ja, pe mo se sa igbo o” (mother, don’t begrudge me because I smoke weed) was a popular line from the song. Tuface Idibia did the same as he sang “…even if you like you go smoke igbo” in one of the tracks in his first album.
Back in 2011, Seun Anikulapo Kuti who is unarguably a chip off the old bloc disclosed that he takes igbo when he wants to relax. “It is good for sleep, arouses appetite, guides against cancer. It kills pain, clears the head and relaxes nerves”, Seun said in an interview. So many songs have been composed about weed, thus giving credence to the fact that it is already a common thing in the Nigerian society.
Findings revealed that weed smoking became more popular in Nigeria after the Second World War and since then, love for it has grown rapidly, especially among youths.
Till date, the acres of arable land used in cultivating cannabis in Nigeria cannot be quantified. It also constitutes the bulk of the drug haul of the NDLEA on an annual basis. In 2012, the NDLEA confiscated more than 5 tonnes of Indian hemp. Despite the seizure however, the commodity is still consumed freely in every state of the federation.
Mixed feelings have continued to trail the calls for its legalization. Some have claimed that it has medicinal values and as such, it should be allowed. A study conducted and published recently in the American Journal of Medicine has concluded that cannabis could be useful in helping to reduce body mass and also in the lowering of blood sugar, especially for people with diabetes. Part of the results published revealed that out of the subjects (diabetes patients), “those who were current cannabis users showed lower levels of fasting insulin, lower levels of insulin resistance, smaller waist circumference, and higher levels of HDL cholesterol, which is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Though cannabis sativa has been found to be useful in medicine, it remains illegal in many countries of the world. Germany, Holland, Canada and Switzerland have decriminalized hemp smoking for recreational purposes with the belief that the move will frustrate underground markets that support the drug trade. Two states in the United States of America, Colorado and Washington too have passed legislation to allow the use of cannabis. 19 other states have legalized cannabis or its derivatives medicinally, though in low doses. It has been stated in some medical literature that cannabis may be useful in the treatment of some other conditions. A famous former American basketball star, Kareem Abdul Jabbar was once arrested for possession of marijuana. He however told law enforcers that he took the substance based on the recommendation of physicians who said it would help his vision. American celebrities like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have also confessed to smoking weed.
A report of the US Department of Food and Drug Administration, which pointed out that canabinoid tetrahydrocanabinol (THC), the active component in cannabis has been employed by some in their argument that weed does not cause cancer like cigarettes.
Like Seun Anikulapo Kuti, many hold the view that the Western world criminalized hemp so as to boost the cigarette market dominated by their companies. It is believed that decriminalizing weed would have negative effects on the tobacco companies.
Contrary to beliefs that smoking hemp does not put one at the risk of cancer however, it has been found out that smoke from marijuana contains thousands of chemical compounds while the tar is chemically similar to the one found in cigarette smoke. It has also been found to contain carcinogens.
Sadly too, marijuana is believed to have other disadvantages, especially as many have linked it to violent behaviours. A study carried out on people who had been introduced to weed at an early age and published in the Annals of African Medicine indicated that children who did not smoke had better academic performance than their peers who smoked Indian hemp.
One other form of usage that has gained ground over the past few decades is for beauty purposes. Indian hemp is believed to contain compounds that stimulate hair growth and as such is included in some hair treatment creams while some people, especially women go on to purchase and mix into their creams in order to grow their hair.
When asked recently on whether marijuana could be legalised anytime soon, the Director General of the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) Dr. Paul Orhii said “Nigerians have a way of abusing these things and we have to weigh it very carefully before we create problems that we might not be able to solve. Right now, we are battling with codeine-containing syrup. We are even considering restricting them. We cannot just allow marijuana to be used by Nigerians. Most would rather abuse it. If for now, there are ways of managing such conditions (as marijuana provides benefits for) without necessarily resorting to marijuana, I think there is no need to allow marijuana to be legalised at this present time ”, he concluded.
Street Journal’s readers reacted to the issue via social media; Remi Oladoye queried “what more is there to legalise when it is everywhere?” In the opinion of Charles Oyedeji, “there are contrasting medical opinions about the psychotic effects of continuous, long term use of marijuana but if you make it too unavailable, you risk creating a criminal cartel behind its logistics too but in the case of Nigeria, whereas many people are fooled into thinking we are a country of cocaine traffickers, but feelers suggest that we may have become big time consumers of cocaine as well! For me, I’d like the Government to concentrate on this aspect rather than the tomfoolery of marijuana ban”.
Abudioke Oluwasegun too holds the view that the Federal Government should legalize cannabis because “there’s no peculiarity in its sale & consumption but familiarity in this our so called democratic era. Even when it is said to be illegal, there is political thuggery in the country as well as all manners of moral decadence.