IN Papua New Guinea, it is illegal to cultivate, groom, store, consume and trade marijuana.
Marijuana, or cannabis, is the main illegal drug produced and consumed in large amounts in PNG. It is cultivated for private use and for sale locally and overseas. Reports suggest it is also bartered for weapons.
Medical research show the effects of smoking marijuana fade quickly, but the drug can be detected in the body for weeks, sometimes longer. It depends on how often it is used or how much the user has consumed.
The most common effect upon a user is that, as a result of prolonged use, it alters the mind.
A user for over 45 years, who requested anonymity when I was writing this article, supported the results of medical research. He said the effects are real and that it has affected a lot of lives of PNG users.
However, he argued that whether a person becomes affected mentally depends on the person themselves and the way they use marijuana.
He added that young people should stop smoking cannabis because their bodies and minds are developing and have not reached maturity.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse in the USA, the brain of young people continues developing until they reach their mid-20’s. Thus the consumption of marijuana at an early age can have damaging effects on the teenager’s ability to progress normally.
Cannabis abuse can also affect a teenager’s emotional development, education and social interaction.
THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, affects the way sensory information is processed by the hippocampus in the limbic system of the brain, which is responsible for learning, memory and the combination of sensory experiences with emotion and motivation.
THC compromises learned behaviour often leading to a teenager’s stunted development, both physically and mentally.
The drug user I spoke to also said he has seen people who smoke marijuana show signs of psychosis or wild mood swings which have affected their lives and their families.
He said these days many teenagers have taken to smoking cannabis because it is more accessible than in the past.
He recounted that in the early 70’s and 80’s, marijuana was mainly available to and used by raskols (criminals).
“Bifo taim mi save stil wantaim ol mangi,” my contact said in Pidgin, “em mipla save smuk na go wokim trabol, ol mangi nating no save smuk, em smuk bilong ol raskol mangi tasol.” [In the past when I was a raskol, we would smoke and then go and commit crimes, normal boys did not smoke because marijuana was for criminals.]
When asked if the consumption of marijuana altered people’s thinking when they were planning to commit a crime, he agreed that it had a lot of impact on them and their way of thinking.
He said that after smoking a joint or two of marijuana it made people more focused on their plan. And controversially, he claimed that on most occasions criminals were successful in carrying out their plan.
A drug dealer recently interviewed said marijuana itself is not the problem; the problem is with the person smoking it. The dealer added that the user must try to control the amount consumed.
He did not believe marijuana had much effect on the mind of a casual smoker, although it is known that consuming it contributed to altering the user’s mind, leading to mental instability.
“Marijuana does not make people crazy,” the dealer said. “People make themselves crazy by abusing it. You cannot blame everyone who smokes marijuana for the few who abuse it.
“We all have reasons for doing things. You must have a reason or purpose for smoking it and everyone has their own reason for smoking and I cannot speak for everyone.
“However, I must say that, yes – it is illegal, but there is much confusion surrounding this issue,” the dealer said.
He also asked the questions that often pop up in the cannabis versus alcohol debate: why alcohol was legal when it accounts for more deaths then cannabis.
A comparative analysis published last year in Scientific Report found that alcohol was 144 times more dangerous than cannabis.
In 2012, the World Health Organisation found that over 3.3 million deaths were caused by alcohol in the US alone. I wonder how many deaths can be attributed to the abuse of alcohol in PNG through ill health, drink driving and violence?
Comparatively, the Huffington Post has reported that a marijuana smoker would have to consume between 20,000 and 40,000 times the amount of THC in a joint in order to be at risk of death.
Over time, though, we know that smoking is a primary cause of lung cancer and other deadly diseases.
The bottom line is that both cannabis and alcohol are dangerous drugs and the abuse of either may result in negative effects on a person’s mind and body.
And this is not to mention the terrible social problems caused by consumption of alcohol and drugs by those who cannot handle the effects.