Pubdate: Mon, 04 Nov 2002
Source: East African Standard, The (Kenya)
Copyright: 2002 The East African Standard
Author: Robi Nimar


Bhang goes by many names. Some call it marijuana, others kaya, iley, 
calley, opium, or ganja. In some local languages, it is known as enyasore, 
njaga, enjaka or sikhwabi. But botanists and other scientists call it 
cannabis sativa.

Over the years, the consumption and trade in this herb has been extremely 
controversial world-wide.

Kenya's statute books make it an offence to possess, cultivate and sell the 
herb. If caught by the long arm of the State, one can be fined up to Sh10 
million, or imprisoned for not less than 10 years. It can even attract a 
lifetime sentence.

Before the laws on sale and consumption of the drug were amended in the mid 
1990s, it was only murder that was not bailable. But today, anyone found 
with the herb cannot be bonded pending the hearing and determination of the 

The herb has been known by medical researchers to be a strong pain killer 
that relieves the symptoms of many diseases, and can even prevent eye 
diseases such as glaucoma, as it reduces pressure on the eyeball.

Dr Lambos Comitas and Dr Vera Rubin in their work on Ganja in Jamaica, 
lists thirty ailments which are susceptible to cure by ganja including 
asthma, colds, stomach disorders, fever, rheumatism, glaucoma among others.

The two researchers come from a tradition of scholarship in Jamaica and the 
United States which has debunked the idea that ganja acts as a stimulant to 
crime, and at the end of their study, the chairman of the National 
Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse of the USA said: "There is little 
correlation between ganja and crime, except insofar as the possession and 
cultivation of ganja are technically crimes".

Medical researchers say that for some conditions such as multiple 
sclerosis, sufferers say cannabis is the only effective remedy.

It can reduce the side effects caused by other drugs such as nausea after 
the administration of chemotherapy especially for cancer cases.

For persons infected by HIV/Aids, cannabis sativa can ease pain and end the 
racking attacks of hiccups that plague the many sufferers.

Unlike most pain killers, cannabis sativa' effects do not weaken with 
continued use. It is even said that cannabis is not addictive, unlike, say, 
tranquillisers or codeine.

Some say marijuana causes dependence, but compared to cocaine, alcohol, 
heroine and nicotine, it has little addictive power and produces mild 
withdrawal symptoms.

Ganja is also known to prevent brain damage caused by stroke, epileptic 
seizures, bipolar disorder, blindness and deafness.

In spite of all these benefits from the drug, how come people are not 
allowed to cultivate and use it freely?

In 1998, debate was rife in Britain about the use of the drug. Proponents 
of the drug said for many years there were no clinical trials on the 
effectiveness of cannabis as an important drug, so no one could offer 
evidence that the government could use to legalise it.

In the same year, a drug company, GW Pharmaceuticals, was allowed to grow 
cannabis in Britain, which it used in trials on people with MS and spinal 
injuries. In the late 1999, the company reported that its first results 
were 'encouraging' but nothing since then has been made public about its 
conclusive research results.

The British Medical Association still favours the use of cannabinols or 
cannabis extracts in medicines, though it opposes legislation in general.

Some Western researchers say the usage of the drug has light-headed 
effects, particularly if the user is feeling anxious.

They argue that it is easier to experience an overdose through eating or 
drinking cannabis than smoking it, and this can cause unpleasant effects, 
ranging from terror to hallucinations and, in rare cases, unconsciousness.

Researchers warn that people with mental health problems can become badly 
disoriented by any mind-altering drug, and it may trigger a schizophrenic 
episode. But in other cases, the effects wear off within hours of its use.

Some time in the year 2000, Dr Alan Kirk, a cardiothoracic specialist at 
Glasgow's Western Hospital, England, called for more research after 
revealing that he was finding lung cancer at a much earlier age among those 
who smoked both cannabis and tobacco than those who just smoked tobacco.

Proponents of the use of the drug say its side effects are minor compared 
to the damage wreaked by many medicinal drugs such as steroids, tobacco and 

They say most of the anti-cannabis evidence has come from animal and 
test-tube studies and has not been replicated in human volunteers.

They also argue that most of its harmful effects on humans have been 
recorded in drug-abuse patients who tend to have taken cocktails of drugs 
over longer periods.

Researchers say except for the harm associated with smoking, the adverse 
effects of its use are within the range of effects tolerated for other 

Since the colonial period in Kenya, the use and sale of this drug has been 
a criminal offence.

In the 1970s and 80s, ganja and its use posed a serious problem throughout 
the Caribbean for the way in which its trade was linked to international 

In his book, Rasta and Resistance, from Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney, 
Horace Campbell says from the outset of the formation of Rasta camps, 
communes and settlements in Jamaica, it was noted that smoking of the 
chillum pipe occurred frequently and those who lived close to the 
settlements would notice from time to time a familiar billowing of smoke 
and hear the 'puck, puck' of the chillum pipe.

The pipe and ganja which was incorporated as part of the culture of Rasta 
and the working class in Jamaica, had been imported from India. Britain is 
credited for its importation up to 1907. The drug was widely sold to Indian 
indentured workers in the Caribbean Islands. Like in India, ganja was used 
for many purposes. Also known as Indian hemp - used to make twine and rope 
- - cannabis was a household remedy in India from ancient times.

Large scale use of ganja in Jamaica and the Caribbean in the most recent 
history dated from the importation of the indentured Indians into Jamaica. 
There are, however, no records to suggest that Arawaks, the original group 
of people who lived in Jamaica before the Europeans arrived following the 
expeditions of sailor Christopher Columbus.

To date, ganja continues to be used widely by the working people of 
Jamaica. The herb is smoked, brewed as medicinal tea and tonic, cooked in 
food and applied externally. The climate of Jamaica is specially hospitable 
to the crop of which there are two harvests per year.

And this crop has an advantage over perishable crops in that it can be 
stored for many years without deterioration in content value.

Because the usage of the herb was a predominantly working class phenomenon 
in the Caribbean, Britain, then a colonial master, did not raise a whimper 
but acceded at the League of Nations in 1924 when Egyptian delegate pressed 
for cannabis to be added to the list of dangerous drugs to be regulated.

This law prohibited the cultivation of the plant and regulated the sale and 
possession of it such that anyone who sold it or dealt with ganja had to 
take out a licence and pay duty.

This law lay dormant on the British statue books in Jamaica until after 
1938 when the planters associated ganja, Rastas and the revolt, leading to 
a revision of the Dangerous Drugs Law as a weapon against poor blacks, 
especially the Rastafiri who suffered periodic raids.

History indicates that stiff penalties, including imprisonment and heavy 
fines, failed to stop this popular custom in Jamaica in the 1960s and 70s.

Michael Manley administration which came to power in 1968 elections, 
understood that they could not deal so repressively with a popular custom, 
but continued to use the anti-democratic and anti-people laws.

The reggae music legend, the late Peter Tosh, came out strongly in defence 
of ganja and asked the Jamaican government to legalise its use and stop the 
clamp down on users.

In some parts of Africa and the Caribbean Islands, ganja is used for 
spiritual purposes just like the kola nut is used in most of West African 

Proponents of the use of this naturally-occurring drug raise a serious 
indictment against governments. They say even if the states have been 
constrained by international agreements on the question of legalising 
ganja, they have not generated the kind of authentic scientific research 
that could enable society to understand its long-term medicinal use.

In this era where alternative medicine has become a buzzword in the medical 
circles, won't it make sense for governments to spare some national 
resources for the purpose of research on the herb?

If its use is regulated, the drug will be much cheaper to produce locally 
and probably export it elsewhere in the world.

But will the huge multi-national pharmaceutical companies allow the trade 
that will eat into the profits accruing from their conventional but 
expensive drugs in the market?
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom